UPDATED at 6:55 p.m.
Gov. John Bel Edwards plans to appeal to higher court a state district judge’s ruling Wednesday that invalidated his executive order forbidding workplace discrimination of LGBT employees in state government agencies and by private companies contracting with the state.
Nineteenth Judicial District Court Judge Todd Hernandez, of Baton Rouge, ruled that Edwards exceeded the scope of his authority with his executive order protecting lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender. He issued a permanent injunction forbidding the state from enforcing Edwards’ order, finding that regardless of what the governor intended, the order “creates new and/or expands upon existing Louisiana law as opposed to directing the faithful execution of the existing laws of this state.”
“We fully intend to appeal this issue, which is how the parties knew that this matter would ultimately be resolved.” Edwards said in a prepared statement. The next step would be to go to the First Circuit Court of Appeal in Baton Rouge.
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“I applaud Judge Hernandez for basing his ruling on the law, not politics,” Attorney General Jeff Landry said in a prepared statement. “My challenge has always been about upholding the checks and balances on executive authority as established in our state Constitution.”
It’s the latest skirmish between the governor and attorney general since both were sworn into office on Jan. 11. Landry is seen by many Republicans as the most likely challenger for Democratic Edwards’ reelection in 2019.
Landry had rejected 31 state contracts because they included language that protects gays and transgender employees from workplace discrimination. Landry refused the contracts stating “these provisions should not contain language exceeding what the law requires.”
The Edwards administration asserted that Landry was “injecting his political beliefs” into the task of checking to see if the private lawyers contracted by the state for particular jobs were qualified to do the work.
Landry said Hernandez found that state law “provides that the office of the attorney general is vested with the authority to use his/her discretion in approving contracts for private legal counsel to state agencies, boards and/or commissions.”
An immediate impact of the decision involves healthcare coverage for some state employees. The Governor’s Office has decided to remove the wording, on which all parties already had agreed, from a contract in order to get it approved in time to avoid disrupting insurance coverage.
The contract still needs to be approved by the House Appropriations committee and the Senate Finance committee, both of which are meeting this week.
Edwards said the Hernandez ruling recognizes the governor as the constitutionally superior officer to the attorney general, but found the executive order was not in a governor’s authority to implement.
A Republican first elected to the bench in 2001, Hernandez found that Edwards’ order breached the “separation of powers” doctrine in the state Constitution. However, he denied Landry’s additional claims that the order also violated other parts of the state and U.S. constitutions.
Landry’s lawyers had argued that the Louisiana Legislature had repeatedly considered – and rejected – measures that would have extended protections to the gay and transgender community.
“With great respect for the role of the Louisiana Legislature,” Edwards said, “we continue to believe that discrimination is not a Louisiana value and that we are best served as a state when employment decisions are based solely on an individual’s qualifications and job performance.”
Edwards’ attorneys argued that the executive order was not creating new law, merely directing policy for state employment and contracts.
Past governors have issued nondiscrimination orders based on sexual orientation, but Edwards was the first to extend protections to transgender people.
The governor’s order says, in part: “no state agencies, offices, departments or commission boards shall harass or discriminate on the basis of race, color, sexual orientation or gender identity.”
In April, when Edwards signed the order, he said lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender people were not protected from employment discrimination under Louisiana law.
Matthew F. Block, Edwards’ executive counsel, said Wednesday the order supported efforts to attract companies to Louisiana. He pointed to the National Basketball Association’s decision to move its 2015 All-Star Game to New Orleans from Charlotte because North Carolina passed a state law forcing transgender people to use public restrooms matching their gender assigned at birth.
“After efforts to advance his extreme agenda failed by large bipartisan majorities in the Legislature, John Bel Edwards took it upon himself to replace the people’s will with his own. Fortunately for the families and businesses in our state, the court ruled (Wednesday) that the Governor’s executive fiat will not fly in Louisiana,” Landry replied. “We do not live under a King in Louisiana; we have a Governor, an independent Attorney General, an elected Legislature, and a court system who are all involved in governance along with others. Gov. Edwards must live within the Constitution.”