This week, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis made another shrewd political move, showing why many Republicans think he is their best shot to win back the White House. DeSantis suspended Tampa’s woke prosecutor, Andrew Warren, for failing to do his duty and enforce the law. The governor didn’t just assert his power. He laid out a clear, detailed, substantive case for why he is suspending Warren from office.
DeSantis’s move was both smart politically and sound constitutionally (assuming the courts uphold his suspension). Let’s take the politics first.
Poll after poll shows rising crime is one of the country’s top issues, second only to inflation. What DeSantis’s suspension of Warren did was to make crime and punishment his own issue — one he was willing to act upon. That’s a big national story, not only because crime is so important but because Warren is one of many “Justice Democrat” prosecutors under fire for coddling criminals. Voters are fed up. They are tired of lax law enforcement and “soft on crime” prosecutors. They want safety and protection, and they want it done fairly, without excessive force or racial prejudice.
The public understands that governments have a core duty to protect citizens and their property. Local governments in particular are charged with shielding law-abiding people from criminals, thugs, thieves, and predators. They know that the best way to deter crimes tomorrow is to catch and punish criminals today.
Governments at every level are failing at this basic responsibility. Voters increasingly blame Democrats for that failure, especially prosecutors and mayors who claim their lenient policies advance the cause of social justice. Where’s the justice in smash-and-grab robberies, they ask? In subway muggings? In carjackings? In drive-by shootings? Where’s the justice when perpetrators escape and those who are caught are seldom convicted of serious crimes or do serious prison time? All too often, they are charged with lesser offenses, given light bail, and ultimately allowed to “plead down” to minor crimes to avoid overcrowded courts.
The public’s furor was on full display recently in San Francisco when voters in that deep-blue city booted out their “Social Justice” prosecutor, Chesa Boudin. It was on display earlier in New York, when a former police officer, Eric Adams, was elected to replace the dreadful Bill de Blasio, who let his city become a sewer of street crime and subway violence. It was on display in Minneapolis, the epicenter of progressive attacks on law enforcement after the police murder of George Floyd. Voters there rejected an ambitious effort to cut police funding and “reimagine” the entire department. It is on display now in the White House, which is frantically trying to reposition the Democratic Party as “pro-law enforcement.” Alas for Joe Biden, Nancy Pelosi, and Chuck Schumer, the public isn’t buying what they’re selling.
Until now, no Republican has managed to effectively seize this issue. That is exactly what DeSantis is trying to do. And he could very well succeed because he is not just making speeches; he is taking much-needed action.
That’s smart politically. Or, rather, it is smart if he manages to position himself as the defender of all citizens, whatever their race or income, against rising crime. He will need to repel the assaults, sure to come, that he is just a racist, trying to put blacks and other minorities in jail, or that he is just trying to protect rich people.
Voters (rightly) don’t want to see the restoration of law and order become an attack on minority communities. That’s a difficult task politically for two reasons. One is that some left-wing and minority politicians are bound to charge “racism.” It’s their reflexive answer to policies and politicians they don’t like. The second reason is that minority communities are disproportionate sites of violence and property crime — and stopping it often means arresting perpetrators from those same communities.
The difficult political task, then, is to ensure fair, unbiased, and transparent law enforcement, to give those communities the protection they deserve, and to assiduously avoid language and policies tinged with racial undertones.
DeSantis avoided those pitfalls in laying out the case against Andrew Warren. He did it by laying out that case in meticulous detail, without any personal attacks or demagoguery.
A major part of DeSantis’s criticism of Warren was “constitutional.” The vital point here is that legislative bodies, not prosecutors, are responsible for making our laws. The executive branch is tasked with enforcing them, not rewriting them to suit their fancy. Unfortunately, in city after city, that is exactly what “social justice” prosecutors have done. They have simply declined to prosecute whole classes of crimes, laid out in laws passed by state assemblies or city councils.
If a legislature passes laws sanctioning actions A, B, C, and D as crimes, then it’s not up to the district attorney to say “I will only enforce A and B.” He doesn’t have that right or responsibility. It is his right to say “Given my office’s limited resources and the weak evidence against Mr. Jones in this case, I will not prosecute him for C and D.” Ron DeSantis acknowledged as much.
All across the country, however, Justice Democrats have said they will not prosecute whole classes of crimes as a matter of principle. In doing so, they are acting as one-man legislatures. That’s true whether they are elected or appointed. They are still executive officials and are not authorized to ignore whole classes of duly passed laws.
DeSantis nailed that point, making an effective argument that Warren was guilty of exactly this kind of overreach. That’s a serious violation if we are to remain a country of laws, not men, where our government at all levels is grounded in the separation of powers between the executive, legislative, and judicial branches.
It’s no surprise that DeSantis made this case for political advantage. But it is also good public policy, requiring an executive-branch official, like Tampa’s prosecutor, to enforce the law, not remake it by fiat. That’s not just smart politics for DeSantis. It’s also good government for those who elected him.