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Can DeSantis' exclusive Fox News bill signing be considered unconstitutional?

The seven-and-a-half-minute segment has many First Amendment advocates fearing that the governor had broken the law by barring journalists from a public event.
Credit: Matias J. Ocner/Miami Herald via AP
FILE PHOTO: Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, center, signs bills revamping Florida's literacy and early childhood learning in West Miami Middle School in Miami on Tuesday, May 4, 2021.

FLORIDA, USA — Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis made headlines on Thursday after signing a controversial new election bill into law. However, signing the piece of legislation itself wasn't the only controversial thing DeSantis did, after local reporters learned the moment would happen exclusively on Fox News in front of an invite-only audience. 

The seven-and-a-half-minute segment has many First Amendment advocates fearing that the governor had broken the law by barring journalists from a public event.

However, Clay Calvert, a professor of law and Brechner Eminent Scholar in Mass Communication at the University of Florida College of Journalism, says that's the crux of the issue. Was DeSantis' bill signing on Thursday a public event? 

If so, then Calvert says there are several federal court cases that suggest the governor is violating the First Amendment. 

RELATED: League of Women Voters, Black Voters Matter sue all 67 Florida counties over new election restrictions

One such case in 2007 pitted the mayor of Toledo, Ohio against a local radio station who was no longer being notified of the mayor's press conferences. The court decided that the mayor was trying to manipulate the news by controlling who can attend a news conference and report on it. The court said reporters could not be barred from public press conferences. 

It's not uncommon for bills to be signed in private. That sort of thing happens all the time. 

However, what's strange about the Fox News exclusive is that there's no precedent for it. The governor has signed several pieces of legislation in public with reporters in attendance. In fact, DeSantis signed two bills publicly in front of the press this week, including an "anti-riot" bill. But, to go out of the way to allow just one news outlet to witness a signing is uncommon.

DeSantis would defend his decision at a public press conference later in the day, saying the program he appeared on broadcasts to millions of people across the nation. 

Calvert says that sort of action can create a slippery slope. He says the governor was showing preferential treatment to journalists who share his political viewpoint--not allowing important information to reach Floridians who don't watch Fox News. 

"All you get is an echo chamber," Calvert says. "That just denies access to information to everybody else who might not watch that particular network."

RELATED: DeSantis: Job search requirements to resume for Floridians getting unemployment

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