Michael Moline, Florida Phoenix
A twice-elected public official stands accused of violating his duty to enforce the law, casting doubt upon his legitimacy.
No, we’re not talking about Democrat Andrew Warren, removed by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis as state’s attorney in Hillsborough County for alleged incompetence and neglect of duty for expressing opposition to prosecuting abortion- and trandgender-care-related crimes.
We’re talking about DeSantis himself, a Republican, and his reaction to the indictment Thursday of Donald Trump, his political patron in 2018, against whom he may soon be running for president, in Manhattan on multiple charges, related to alleged payments during the 2016 election intended to buy the silence of adult film actor Stormy Daniels about an alleged affair.
DeSantis has declared that he will not assist in any extradition effort, notwithstanding his apparent obligation to do so under the U.S. Constitution and federal law.
“The weaponization of the legal system to advance a political agenda turns the rule of law on its head. It is un-American,” DeSantis wrote on Twitter on Thursday.
“The Soros-backed Manhattan District Attorney has consistently bent the law to downgrade felonies and to excuse criminal misconduct. Yet, now he is stretching the law to target a political opponent. Florida will not assist in an extradition request given the questionable circumstances at issue with this Soros-backed Manhattan prosecutor and his political agenda,” the governor continued.
Warren himself, still fighting for reinstatement in state and federal appeals courts, remarked on the situation on Twitter.
“Your blatant hypocrisy is a direct assault on the rule of law. You falsely accuse others of not upholding the law. You were found to have broken the law. And now to kowtow politically you refuse to follow the law. This is how democracy dies — with words & deeds like yours,” Warren tweeted.
Warren elaborated in a telephone interview with the Phoenix Friday.
“It sounds like Gov. DeSantis needs to immediately suspend Gov. DeSantis,” Warren said.
“He suspended me on a bogus allegation of not enforcing the law. A court determined that the allegations were bogus. Now he’s clearly saying that he won’t follow the Constitution. He said that the grand jury process was questionable; the only thing that’s questionable is his commitment to upholding the rule of law.”
The Manhattan district attorney is Alvin Bragg, Jr., who, after taking office in January 2022, initially instructed his staff to seek jail time in only the most serious crimes but later backtracked, as The New York Times has reported.
Earlier, DeSantis needled the former president about the sordid nature of the impending charges but declared: “We are not involved in this, won’t be involved in this. I have no interest in getting involved in some sort of manufactured circus by some Soros D.A., OK?”
Asked how the governor differentiates his position in the Trump case to his treatment of Warren, press aide Jeremy Redfern didn’t answer directly, instead repeating DeSantis’ established position on Warren.
“There’s been an entire trial on this matter. Between our press conference, the trial, and the numerous legal filings from our office, there is plenty of publicly available information on our position,” Redfern told the Phoenix by email.
“That being said, here’s a statement from me: Mr. Warren remains suspended from the office he failed to serve.”
Other Republican electeds rallied around both the former president and the governor.
“Upon learning of the NY DA indictment, I am heartbroken by the damage this targeted prosecution will do to the integrity of our justice system. It is a sad day in the story of the United States, Attorney General Ashley Moody tweeted.
“This is leadership. This is Florida. The Rule of Law matters here. The Constitution matters here. We’re not some drug infested, crime ridden banana republic like New York,” Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis contributed.
Nikki Fried, the former state agriculture commissioner turned chair of the Florida Democratic Party, picked up on DeSantis’ slagging of Soros, the Hungarian-born Holocaust survivor and billionaire donor to progressive causes including criminal justice reform who’s become a bête noir to conservatives.
“Breaking the law is un-American and blaming it on George Soros is anti-Semitic,” Fried tweeted.
“Both the United States Constitution and Florida law make clear that Ron DeSantis cannot block the extradition of Donald Trump,” wrote Fentrice Driskell, Democratic leader in the Florida House.
Brandon Wolf, the Pulse nightclub shooting survivor who serves as press secretary to Equality Florida, pointed to DeSantis’ political motivation.
“DeSantis is a graduate of Yale and Harvard Law. He’s aware of interstate extradition requirements. But this is his gig. Gets you to write about him on his terms. Gets you to paint him as a ‘tough guy’ in hopes that no one notices he’s little more than a bad performance artist,” Wolf wrote.
What the Constitution says
The letter of constitutional and statutory authority seems to impose a duty on the governor to cooperate should New York seek Trump’s extradition from his home in Palm Beach County. That may not be necessary, since Trump has indicated plans to surrender himself.
“A Person charged in any State with Treason, Felony, or other Crime, who shall flee from Justice, and be found in another State, shall on Demand of the executive Authority of the State from which he fled, be delivered up, to be removed to the State having Jurisdiction of the Crime,” Article IV, Section 2, of the U.S. Constitution says.
That’s backed up by a federal statute.
The U.S. Supreme Court has not always enforced these obligations. In 1861, in Kentucky v. Dennison, the Court refused to order the governor of Ohio to extradite to Kentucky a free Black man accused of attempting to help an enslaved woman escape captivity. The Extradition Clause and federal law, the court reasoned, imposed only a “moral” duty to comply with such an extradition request.
“The act does not provide any means to compel the execution of this duty, nor inflict any punishment for neglect or refusal on the part of the Executive of the State; nor is there any clause or provision in the Constitution which arms the Government of the United States with this power,” the court said.
However, the high court repudiated that ruling in 1987 in Puerto Rick v. Branstad, a case involving the extradition from Iowa of a man accused or running over a couple in Puerto Rico with his car, injuring the man and killing the woman plus her unborn baby.
In an opinion by the late Thurgood Marshall, the court noted that Dennison was rendered while the Civil War was breaking out, and that war had reordered the relationship between the states so as to compel federal courts to enforce of the Extradition Clause and the federal statute implementing it.
“Kentucky v. Dennison is the product of another time. The conception of the relation between the States and the Federal Government there announced is fundamentally incompatible with more than a century of constitutional development. Yet this decision has stood while the world of which it was a part has passed away. We conclude that it may stand no longer,” Marshall wrote.
The only exception, according to a Library of Congress analysis, would be if Trump were being held subject to a prosecution by Florida authorities; in that case, the state would be entitled to complete any proceeding against him here.
Extradition is a routine obligation, Warren said.
“Except when there are extraordinary circumstances. The requirements are that it’s a facially valid charge. If you charge someone with something that’s a crime on the books, that’s facially valid. If you charge someone with wearing the wrong-colored shirt one day, then that would be facially invalid,” he continued.
Also: “You have to confirm it’s the right person,”
Additionally, states sign on to the Uniform Criminal Extradition Act, agreeing to send defendants when asked, he said.
“This is such a ministerial function. Meaning there’s no controversy whatsoever to it. If somebody commits a crime in Tampa and we find out they’ve fled to another state, law enforcement contacts authorities in that state, lets them know that person has an outstanding warrant, they get arrested, they get returned here — if they’re not willing to voluntarily surrender,” Warren said.
“Here, we’re really early in the facts because we don’t really know what the indictment charges, but the news has reported that Trump’s attorneys have said that he would voluntarily surrender, so it probably won’t even be an issue.
“But the law is clear: The Constitution requires states to honor other states’ criminal charges. It’s a very simple procedural mechanism for doing it.”
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