ORLANDO, Fla. — Florida's new "anti-riot" law, championed by Florida lawmakers as a way to prevent violent protests, violates First Amendment rights.

That's according to a federal judge, who blocked HB 1 Thursday.

What You Need To Know

Chief Federal District Judge Mark Walker said the groups who brought the lawsuit demonstrated that the law chilled protest activities since it was enacted, because "the challenged law's confusing definition of 'riot' fails to give their members sufficient notice of what is prohibited or when they could be subject to arrest, such that their members do not wish to participate in future protests or have ceased organizing protests altogether."

The injunction blocking the law went into effect immediately.

The judge's ruling is narrow, blocking Gov. Ron DeSantis and the sheriffs of Broward and Leon counties, and Jacksonville, from enforcing it based on the plaintiffs' locations. The ruling does not block all law enforcement in the state from enforcing HB 1.

Walker also pointed out that while HB 1 was plainly enacted in the wake of the wave of racial protests across the country in 2020, the constitutionality of the law is not just about race, because the definition of "riot" in HB 1 is so broad.

"Its vagueness permits those in power to weaponize its enforcement against any group who wishes to express any message that the government disapproves of," Walker wrote. "Thus, while there may be some Floridians who welcome the chilling effect that this law has on the Plaintiffs in this case, depending on who is in power, next time it could be their ox being gored."

Supporters of HB 1 say the bill is meant to target those who would act violently during protests, block highways or engage in looting, by increasing penalties for anyone who targets law enforcement and participates in violent or disorderly assemblies. There are also penalties for obstructing highways and roadways.

But critics argue that, besides the broad definition of rioting within the bill, there was no widespread violence during any of the protests in Florida in the summer of 2020, and any violence was already dealt with by existing laws, so HB 1 was a solution in search of a problem.

Those same critics also called into question the uneven application of the law a few months ago when Free Cuba protests blocked major streets in several cities.

This is a developing story. Check back for updates.


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