Attorneys for Gov. John Bel Edwards and attorney General Jeff Landry argued Tuesday over who has the final word in anti-discrimination measures and other issues.
Landry, a Republican who has clashed with Democrat Edwards on various issues for months, is asking 19th Judicial District Court Judge Todd Hernandez to nullify an executive order issued by Edwards that bans discrimination in state government on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.
Elizabeth Murrill, solicitor general for Landry, told the court the governor's directive "makes law. And that is an unconstitutional act."
Murrill later asked a witness, "Do you agree that the governor cannot make law through executive order?"
But attorneys for Edwards argued that the attorney general has overstepped his authority, including in cases where Landry has declined to approve state contracts because of the anti-discrimination language.
They said that stance has sparked problems in state government, and even resulted in some private attorneys working free of charge for the state.
"It has been a daily issue," said Richard McGimsey, executive counsel for the Division of Administration. "There is a lot of anxiety."
The hearing, which began shortly after 9 a.m., ended shortly after 6 p.m.
Hernandez asked attorneys for each side to submit post-trail briefs arguing their side by noon Friday.
When a ruling will be issued is unclear.
After the hearing Matthew Block, the governor's executive counsel, said he did not hear any testimony challenging the constitutionality of Edwards' order.
Murill declined comment.
The Attorney General's Office has accepted state contracts that preclude prejudice based on sexual orientation.
However, the office challenges the legitimacy of regulating gender identity in the workplace.
In his lawsuit, Landry said the governor's order violates state law and exceeds his authority.
Louisiana's Republican attorney general asked a judge Thursday to block the Democratic gover…
The attorney general said the Legislature has repeatedly refused to enact such anti-discrimination language.
House Appropriations Committee Chairman Cameron Henry, R-Metairie, was one of the witnesses Tuesday.
Henry said he opposed the use of, rather than the language used in the governor's executive order.
Approving state contracts with the LGBT language could be considered support for a provision that lawmakers have rejected, thus diminishing the power of the House and Senate, he said.
Edwards filed a lawsuit against Landry in September over the attorney general's refusal to approve state contracts with language that protects gays and lesbians against workplace discrimination in state government.
The governor said at the time that the attorney general "is on the wrong side of the law and the wrong side of history on this issue."
A judge ruled against Edwards in that challenge.
However, issues from that case resurfaced during Tuesday's arguments.
The courtroom battle over the power struggle between the governor and the attorney general w…
Chester Cedars, an attorney for Landry, argued that the governor is again unfairly seeking a declaratory judgement that spells out the boundaries of authority between Edwards and Landry, and declare the governor to be the constitutionally superior officer.
"What brought us to court in October brings us to court today," said Cedars, a reference to the Edwards' lawsuit heard last month.
Mary Olive Pierson, representing Edwards, said the issues were never litigated during the earlier lawsuit.
Block told the court that, before Edwards' executive order, firms doing business with state agencies were free to fire gay and transgender employees.
He also said that, while Landry's witnesses predicted chaos because of the language in dispute, the attorney general failed to produce a witness or firm adversely affected by the non-discriminatory policies.
Scott Johnson, general counsel at the Division of Administration, made the same point.
"I haven't heard any objections to a party including the executive order in the contract," Johnson said.
Donald Price, also an attorney for the governor, said Landry has refused to do his duty by not approving the state contracts in dispute.
"The work of government cannot go forward," Price said.
Without a final ruling, he said, similar contact disputes will surface "every day, every week."
J. Douglas Sunseri, a Metairie attorney who testified as an expert in employment law, said transgender or gender identity is difficult to classify and, absent a defintion, makes the executive order hard to apply in the workplace.
"How do you take this nebulous term and apply it to the work force?" Sunseri asked.