By Jim Saunders, The News Service of Florida
TALLAHASSEE — From elections to vaccines, state and federal courts are weighing major Florida lawsuits. Here are 10 big legal issues to watch in 2022:
— ELECTIONS: With high-profile elections looming in November, Chief U.S. District Judge Mark Walker is slated to start a trial Jan. 31 in challenges by voting-rights groups to a controversial new elections law. Among other things, the law made it harder for Floridians to cast ballots by mail and added restrictions to drop boxes, where voters can drop off completed ballots.
— GUN PURCHASES: The National Rifle Association is asking the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to reject a 2018 Florida law that prevents people under age 21 from buying guns. The law, passed after the mass shooting at Parkland’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, was upheld by a federal district judge. The NRA argues the law is unconstitutional.
— LOCAL GUN RESTRICTIONS: The Florida Supreme Court has agreed to take up a case challenging a 2011 state law that threatens tough penalties if city and county officials approve gun-related regulations. Local governments began fighting the law after the 2018 mass shooting at Parkland’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. The 1st District Court of Appeal upheld the law.
— MARSY’S LAW: More than three years after voters approved a victims’ rights measure known as “Marsy’s Law,” the Florida Supreme Court will consider whether the law can shield the identities of police officers involved in shootings. The 1st District Court of Appeal backed two Tallahassee officers who argued they were entitled to privacy protections because they were threatened in the use-of-force incidents.
— PROTEST CRACKDOWN: The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals is slated in March to hear an appeal by Gov. Ron DeSantis’ administration in a battle about a law aimed at cracking down on protests. DeSantis championed the law after nationwide protests in 2020 focused on racial justice. A federal district judge issued an injunction against the law, which enhances penalties and creates new crimes in protests that turn violent.
— SOCIAL MEDIA: The state wants the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to overturn a preliminary injunction against a law targeting social-media giants such as Facebook and Twitter. The law, in part, seeks to prevent platforms from banning political candidates from their sites and requires the companies to publish and consistently apply standards. The online industry challenged the law on First Amendment grounds.
— SPORTS BETTING: Gov. Ron DeSantis and the Seminole Tribe are looking to a Washington, D.C., federal appeals court to salvage a gambling deal that allowed sports betting in Florida. A district judge said the deal violated a federal Indian gambling law. The deal, approved in a May special legislative session, called for the tribe to control online sports betting in the state. It was challenged by two pari-mutuel facilities.
— TRANSGENDER STUDENT: In a case that is drawing national attention, the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals is slated to hear arguments in February about whether a transgender male student should have been allowed to use boys’ bathrooms at a St. Johns County high school. A district judge ruled in favor of student Drew Adams, spurring the St. Johns County School Board to appeal.
— UF PROFESSORS: Chief U.S. District Judge Mark Walker will hear arguments Jan. 7 in a lawsuit filed against the University of Florida after it blocked political-science professors from testifying against the state in an elections case. Six professors contend that a university policy violates First Amendment rights. UF walked back the decision in the elections case, but the school has faced heavy scrutiny about the policy.
— VACCINE MANDATES: Attorney General Ashley Moody has gone to the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals after a district judge refused to block a Biden administration rule requiring health-care workers to be vaccinated against COVID-19. Moody, backed by Gov. Ron DeSantis, also is challenging a separate federal vaccination requirement for workers at federal contractors.