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Probe looms after University of Florida curbs professors from testifying in election law case


Gov. Ron DeSantis’ office has petitioned U.S. District Judge Mark Walker to block subpoenas seeking to depose seven Republican lawmakers and an unnamed Governor’s Office staffer from testifying in a lawsuit over a controversial elections law adopted by the state Legislature this year.

The University of Florida (UF) last week also barred three professors from assisting plaintiffs in that lawsuit, including testifying in depositions or in court, claiming as employees, they cannot participate in an action “adverse to U.F.’s interests.”

How the legal challenge to the voting law is “adverse to U.F.s interests” isn’t clear, but the university’s prohibition – since modified – has complicated matters.

The Chronicle of Higher Education reported Monday the Southern Association of Colleges & Schools Commission on Colleges, which accredits UF, will open an investigation into UF’s barring professors from testifying at the behest of their union, which said DeSantis and UF are “meddling” with First Amendment rights.

Southern Association representatives told media across the state Monday and Tuesday that it would submit a letter to UF seeking verification that the university told the three they could not testify and determine if that action violates federal accreditation standards and, potentially, the funding that comes from it.

The Governor’s Office has since said it had nothing to do with UF’s restrictions. The university over the weekend clarified it was not prohibiting UF Political Science Department Chair Dan Smith and professors Michael McDonald and Sharon Wright Austin from testifying, but only if they do so without pay.

The three had requested to testify as compensated witnesses for the plaintiffs – requests routinely granted by the state’s university system for academic experts to offer expert testimony in lawsuits until, apparently, now.

“The university denied requests of these full-time employees to undertake outside paid work that is adverse to the university’s interests as a state of Florida institution,” UF said in a statement, adding it “did not deny the First Amendment rights or academic freedom” of the professors.

On May 6, DeSantis signed hotly-contested Senate Bill 90 into law live on “Fox & Friends.”

SB 90 adds more identification requirements for absentee ballots; requires voters request an absentee ballot for each election, every two years; limits who can collect and drop off ballots to prevent “ballot harvesting”; and expands the presence of partisan observers during the vote-counting process.

The bill limits use of drop boxes but doesn’t ban them and prohibits outside groups from providing items “with the intent to influence” voters within a 150-foot radius of a polling location

SB 90 was fiercely opposed by Democrats, voting rights groups and 66 of 67 county elections supervisors.

Moments after DeSantis signed SB 90 on Fox News, the League of Women Voters of Florida (LWVF) filed a 69-page lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Tallahassee and the NAACP LDF filed a complaint in U.S. District Court in Orlando.

LWVF’s suit claims SB 90 has “a disproportionate impact on elderly voters, voters with disabilities, students and communities of color.” The NAACP LDF-led lawsuit claims it violates the federal Voting Rights Act, the 1st and 14th amendments and is – by definition – voter suppression.

Plaintiffs in the suits before Walker are seeking to deposition seven Republican lawmakers and a Governor’s Office staffer about their roles in drafting the controversial law.

Walker gave state attorneys until this week to respond. Subpoenaed are Sens. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala; Jim Boyd, R-Bradenton; Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg; Joe Gruters, R-Sarasota; and Kathleen Passidomo, R-Naples. House Reps. Erin Grall, R-Vero Beach, and Blaise Ingoglia, R-Spring Hill, are also sought for questioning under oath.

This article was originally posted on Probe looms after University of Florida curbs professors from testifying in election law case

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