Michael Wines at NYT:
Three University of Florida professors have been barred from assisting plaintiffs in a lawsuit to overturn the state’s new law restricting voting rights, lawyers said in a federal court filing on Friday. The ban is an extraordinary limit on speech that raises questions of academic freedom and First Amendment rights.
University officials told the three that because the school was a state institution, participating in a lawsuit against the state “is adverse to U.F.’s interests” and could not be permitted. In their filing, the lawyers sought to question Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican, on whether he was involved in the decision.
Mr. DeSantis has resisted questioning, arguing that all of his communications about the law are protected from disclosure because discussions about legislation are privileged. In their filing on Friday, lawyers for the plaintiffs said the federal questions in the case — including whether the law discriminates against minority groups — override any state protections.
Two university representatives said they could not comment on pending litigation. Mr. DeSantis’s office did not immediately reply to a request for comment.
FIRE is deeply concerned by a report in The New York Times that the University of Florida has barred three professors from participating as witnesses in a voting rights lawsuit against the state of Florida.
FIRE has said it before, and we’ll say it again: The profound civic importance of fair trials requires the ability of fact and expert witnesses to come forward to testify truthfully without fear that their government employer might retaliate against them. Public university faculty are no exception. We call on UF to reverse course immediately.
UF should be aware that Plymouth State University’s ill-considered decision to punish faculty who had testified in a trial ultimately cost the state of New Hampshire’s taxpayers $350,000. FIRE warned Plymouth State then, and we’re warning UF now: If you pick a fight with the First Amendment, you will lose.