Court Battles

University of Florida bars three professors from testifying in lawsuit over elections bill

The University of Florida (UF) has barred three professors from testifying in a federal lawsuit against the state over a recently enacted elections overhaul bill.

Lawyers for a coalition of civil rights groups suing the state made the disclosure in a court document on Friday that was first reported by The New York Times.

The lawyers said they seek to ask Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’s (R) office if it was involved in the university’s decision.

The spat comes in a federal lawsuit over Senate Bill 90, which DeSantis signed into law in May

Among other things, the measure creates ID requirements for mail-in voting, restricts the use of ballot drop boxes, and prevents non-poll workers from handing out food or drink to voters waiting in line.

The advocacy groups filed the lawsuit shortly after the bill was signed, arguing that it violates the Voting Rights Act and would disenfranchise communities of color. A judge dismissed some of the claims in the lawsuit on Friday.

The university notified the professors — Dan Smith, Michael McDonald and Sharon Austin — that they could not serve as experts on behalf of plaintiffs as part of their “outside activities,” the lawyers stated.

Emails to the professors reveal that the request was turned down due to conflicts of interest.

Smith was told on Oct. 11 that he could not testify because “outside activities that may pose a conflict of interest to the executive branch of the State of Florida create a conflict for the University of Florida.”

McDonald and Austin were similarly told days later that their requests were denied because the activities are adverse to its interests.

Paul Donnelly, who represents the professors, told The Washington Post that they will file a legal challenge if the school does not change its legal stance.

Asked about the decision, University of Florida spokeswoman Hessy Fernandez told The Hill that the school has “a long track record of supporting free speech and our faculty’s academic freedom.”

“It is important to note that the university did not deny the First Amendment rights or academic freedom,” Fernandez continued. “Rather, 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.”

Christina Pushaw, DeSantis’s spokesperson, defended the university’s “long-standing policy” regarding conflicts of interest in a statement to The Hill.

“The UF policy was last updated a year ago, prior to SB 90 – so the university’s policy could not possibly have been a reaction to this lawsuit,” Pushaw said. “The Governor’s Office did not make UF’s policy, and there is zero evidence to suggest otherwise.”

–Updated on Nov. 1 at 12:03 p.m.

Tags Ron DeSantis

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