The state of Alabama this week received support from a somewhat unlikely source in defending itself against a civil rights lawsuit over a minimum wage preemption law: Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry.
Landry joined several Republican legal officers in other states, led by Texas AG Ken Paxton, in backing up Alabama in an ongoing suit filed by civil rights groups and fast food workers that claims white lawmakers there discriminated against the majority black city of Birmingham.
The case centers around Alabama’s preemption law for minimum wage, which was passed shortly after the Birmingham City Council instituted a $10.10 minimum wage in 2015. The state law overrules the city, keeping intact the state’s policy of having no minimum wage, reverting instead to the federally-mandated $7.25 minimum, much like Louisiana.
The suit was brought by the NAACP, the Alabama Legislative Black Caucus, fast food workers and others. It was struck down by a district court but the racial discrimination claims are still alive in the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals.
The people bringing the case have said the Alabama Legislature’s law was “tainted with racial animus” and such preemption laws are “vestiges of race discrimination” that disproportionately affect African Americans.
Landry and the attorneys general from Missouri, Indiana, Georgia and Arkansas joined Paxton in a filing this week that sides with the state of Alabama in the case, arguing the racial discrimination claim is “meritless.”
“Racial discrimination by a legislative body violates the fundamental right of every citizen to be treated equally by their government,” Louisiana Solicitor General Liz Murrill said in a statement. “But when policy differences are recast as racial disputes simply because the plaintiff lost a case at trial, the legislative and the judicial process inevitably is damaged and confidence in both systems erodes.”
Murrill said Louisiana has an interest in making sure the courts “quickly dispose of meritless challenges to state laws, but particularly claims with such corrosive effects on our judicial and lawmaking systems.”
Richard Rouco, attorney for the individual plaintiffs, NAACP and Greater Birmingham Ministries, said it’s “a bit of a mystery” why Louisiana is inserting itself into the matter, as Louisiana is not overseen by the 11th Circuit.
Rouco said the actions by white state lawmakers in Alabama to override the majority black city of Birmingham’s minimum wage policy was “disturbing.” He also suggested the attorneys general getting involved in the case are likely interested in preventing people from filing similar lawsuits, on things like redistricting and voter laws, in their states. If Alabama wins the case, the same legal reasoning could be used in Louisiana courts in the future, he said.
“They would like to see it harder for plaintiffs, for people challenging those decisions, to get into the courthouse,” he said.
Louisiana and Alabama both have no minimum wage, and default to the federal rate of $7.25. And both have cities that want to set their own minimum wage higher than that.
The city councils of New Orleans and Shreveport have both voted in recent weeks to back a bill filed by state Rep. Royce Duplessis, a New Orleans Democrat, that would let Louisiana cities set their own minimum wage and paid leave policies.
That bill is also backed by a coalition of labor groups and nonprofits called Unleash Local. Gov. John Bel Edwards is making a push to let voters decide on whether the state should enact a $9 an hour minimum wage.
Both efforts face a tough path in a GOP-dominated Louisiana Legislature that has repeatedly killed similar attempts. Business groups here have lobbied particularly hard against the efforts, and House Republicans made a parliamentary move on the first day of the legislative session this year that will make it harder for Duplessis’ bill to advance.
Landry spokesman Jacques Ambers said Landry also disapproves of the policy itself of letting locals set their own minimum wage.
“AG Landry has long been a supporter of policies that foster a better business climate in Louisiana, which leads to economic growth and prosperity for all Louisianans,” Ambers said in an email. “Allowing municipalities to set their own minimum wage standards would be counterproductive to that effort.”