Gov. John Bel Edwards and state Attorney General Jeff Landry are again sparring — this time over Edwards’ executive order that prohibits discrimination against people based on their sexual orientation or gender identity.
And on Wednesday, Landry committed Louisiana to join Texas and nine other states in a lawsuit challenging President Barack Obama’s recent directive for schools to open bathrooms up to both sexes. The lawsuit, which was filed in U.S. District Court in Wichita Falls, Texas, argues that Congress, rather than the U.S. Department of Education and the U.S. Department of Justice, should establish policies involving transgender access to public restrooms.
Edwards, a Democrat, wasn’t consulted by Landry about Louisiana joining the Texas lawsuit, said Richard Carbo, the governor’s spokesman. The Governor’s Office is reviewing the federal lawsuit, he said.
On Edwards’ state order, Landry, a Republican, issued an attorney general’s opinion this week that calls the directive “merely aspirational and without any binding legal effect” because he says it goes too far in creating new law.
“The Edwards Order does not and cannot create a protected class and cannot create any legally enforceable standard regarding discrimination based upon gender identity,” Landry writes in his opinion. “The Governor’s constitutionally valid function is to see that the laws are faithfully executed and enforced, not to make any of the laws, which, constitutionally is the legislative power and function.”
Edwards shot back, claiming that Landry is overstepping boundaries and trying to usurp the governor’s authority.
“It is my obligation as the governor of Louisiana to responsibly lead in developing and implementing best policies and practices across executive agencies so that state government operates in a manner worthy of the people of Louisiana,” Edwards said in a statement. “However, the attorney general has overstepped the authority given to his office, and he is now attempting to erode the constitutionally granted executive order power of the governor and is disrupting the work of state agencies.”
Edwards’ executive order bars state government from discriminating against gay and transgender people in employment practices and in the course of offering state services and benefits. State contractors also have to agree to anti-discrimination terms beginning July 1, but the provision won’t extend to contractors who are religious groups.
Past governors have issued nondiscrimination orders based on sexual orientation, but Edwards was the first to extend protections to transgender people.
Edwards and Landry, who both were sworn into office on Jan. 11, have gone head-to-head several times in recent weeks.
Among their most visible skirmishes of late: The state House agreed to separate the budget for the Attorney General’s Office from the overall state budget, over the objections of the Edwards administration, and this week, Landry and Edwards traded accusations of using “Washington-style politics” in a discussion on immigration-related legislation.
The nine-page attorney general’s opinion, which does not have the force of law, could be used to set up a lawsuit challenging the order.
The opinion was posted to the attorney general’s website this week, without further comment from Landry.
Landry waded into the argument over protections for LGBT people at the request of 32 state legislators who said they were prompted by Obama’s recent directive for schools to allow restroom access based on gender identity.
Landry also entered on the federal level of the issue by joining the Texas lawsuit. Alabama, Wisconsin, West Virginia, Tennessee, Maine, Oklahoma, Utah and Georgia as well as the Arizona Department of Education plus two school districts are parties to the legal challenge.
Nine of the 11 states that sued have Republican governors.
The lawsuit argues that the Obama administration improperly interprets the word “sex” in a civil rights law to include transgender people. The lawsuit alleged that the Obama administration is conducting “a massive social experiment, flouting the democratic process” that endangers children and basic privacy rights.
The Louisiana attorney general doesn’t issue opinions on federal law or matters that are in or likely to be in litigation. Landry’s order was released before news of his joining the lawsuit.
“For too long, the federal government has directed education policy to the detriment of Louisiana’s students,” Landry said in a later statement. “I will not allow Washington to wreak further havoc on our schools.”
State Rep. Mike Johnson, a Bossier City Republican who wrote the letter on behalf of legislators seeking clarity, said he had hoped Edwards would be willing to tweak the executive order if it were found to go too far in creating state law. He wouldn’t say whether he intended to file a lawsuit challenging it.
“The overarching concern is it introduces new concepts into Louisiana law,” Johnson told The Advocate this week. “It opens up a Pandora’s box of problems.”
Johnson said Obama’s order further complicated the issue, requiring the need for legal guidance.
“There are many questions that both orders raise,” Johnson said.