Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has suspended a Democrat who was elected state prosecutor for vowing not to enforce the state’s 15-week abortion ban, and for supporting gender transition treatments for minors.
DeSantis announced on Thursday the suspension of Hillsborough County State Attorney Andrew Warren in the Tampa Bay area, accusing the prosecutor of “ignoring the law”.
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Florida had imposed a 15-week abortion ban earlier this year, even before the United States Supreme Court revoked the federal constitutional right to the procedure.
At a news conference on Thursday, DeSantis said local officials cannot have “veto power” over issues decided by the entire state.
“The constitution of Florida has vested the veto power in the governor, not individual state attorneys. And so, when you flagrantly violate your oath of office, when you make yourself above the law, you have violated your duty, you have neglected your duty, and you are displaying a lack of competence to be able to perform those duties,” the Republican governor said.
“And so, today we are suspending State Attorney Andrew Warren effective immediately.”
Democrats denounced the decision, saying that DeSantis – who is a possible candidate for the 2024 US presidential election – is subverting the will of the voters who elected Warren.
“The governor’s actions constitute an extreme abuse of power – a new low for DeSantis who fails our great state with his mean-spirited, selfish and fiscally-irresponsible focus on his political ambitions alone,” Democratic Congresswoman Kathy Castor, who represents the Tampa Bay area, said in a tweet.
Fentrice Driskell, a Tampa Democrat and leader-designate of the Florida House Democratic Caucus, called Warren’s suspension a “shocking political attack” on an elected official.
“Andrew Warren is being removed because he assured our community that he will not be a foot soldier in Ron DeSantis’ extremist agenda,” she said in a statement.
But DeSantis rejected the charge that he overruled the voters who elected Warren, saying that the now-suspended prosecutor’s conduct fell “below the standard of the Florida Constitution”.
“I don’t think the people of Hillsborough County want to have an agenda that is basically woke, where you’re deciding that your view of social justice means certain laws shouldn’t be enforced,” DeSantis said.
In June, Warren signed on to a statement by dozens of prosecutors across the country vowing to “refrain from prosecuting those who seek, provide or support abortions”.
Warren’s suspension comes amid an intensifying nationwide debate about abortion rights after the top US court overturned Roe v Wade, the landmark 1973 decision that ensured the right to the procedure.
The abortion issue is already becoming a major topic for the November midterm elections that will decide which party will control Congress for the next two years.
On Tuesday, the largely conservative Midwestern state of Kansas voted against repealing abortion protections from its constitution in the first direct vote on the issue since the Supreme Court’s decision.
On Thursday, DeSantis replaced Warren with Hillsborough County Judge Susan Lopez for the duration of his suspension.
“I have the utmost respect for our state laws and I understand the important role that the state attorney plays in ensuring the safety of our community and the enforcement of our laws,” Lopez said in a statement.