Litigation Highlight: Florida Appeals Court Upholds Broad Preemption Statute

  • Date:
  • April 14th, 2021

By: Jacob Charles

Last Friday, in DeSantis v. City of Weston, Florida's First District Court of Appeals reversed a lower court ruling that had invalidated several provisions of Florida's recently expanded preemption statute. Preemption laws have been in the news a lot lately. The mass shooting in Boulder, Colorado brought attention to a court ruling just days prior that had struck down Boulder's attempt to restrict certain semi-automatic weapons and limit magazine size, as Joseph talked about shortly after in a Washington Post op-ed on preemption laws. I have recently written about the ways that states have used aggressive and comprehensive preemption laws as a powerful arrow in a quiver full of pro-gun legislation over the past few decades. And Rachel Simon has written a terrific article that narrows in on the history, scope, and concerns with firearm preemption laws.

The Court of Appeals' decision in City of Weston vindicates Florida's broad statutory preemption law against a challenge from several localities and officials, including the law's penalties for errant local governments, local officials, and agency heads. Characterizing the challengers' lawsuit, the court remarked in a footnote: "Lest we overlook the fundamentally important broader context in which the present issues arise, we observe that, implicitly, [the challengers] sought to test the boundaries of the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution." It's not clear to me that's the case. Some of what the court chronicles as on the officials' agenda seems quite clearly within the established boundaries of the Constitution, like "mandating reports of failed background checks." In any event, the court held that the legislature had the power to impose broad disabilities on local governments and that the penalties were not problematic. It rejected the challengers' arguments rooted in state-law doctrines of government function immunity and legislative immunity. With new and broader preemption proposals still on the gun-rights agenda,  we will likely continue to see both challenges to those laws and creative attempts by localities to regulate around them. It is clear the issue is not going away.