Chalk up two policy wins for Louisiana’s Republican Attorney General Jeff Landry over Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards. A third victory on another policy difference might prove elusive, though.
In a meeting last week, Edwards, after initially resisting, agreed to Landry’s requests for more money to defend Louisiana abortion statutes in court and to combat Medicaid fraud. However, the two men maintained an impasse over Landry’s disapproval of contracts issued by the Edwards administration that included language forbidding discrimination on the bases of sexual orientation or gender identity. That wording grows from a related Edwards executive order that exempts faith-based organizations when they are used as contractors.
Landry exercised his authority to stop most contracts that use the language mirroring the governor's executive order. Landry contends that the contracts failed to follow state law. Not long after Edwards issued his order, Landry’s office received and acted upon legislators’ requests for an opinion on the order's legality. Landry’s subsequent evaluation cited an impressive array of legal cases, statutes, and constitutional passages to demonstrate that Edwards had exceeded his gubernatorial authority.
But after last week's meeting, when Edwards filed suit over Landry’s refusal to approve the contracts, the governor didn’t address the legality of the order but instead challenged Landry's authority to disapprove the contracts. Edwards argues that the statutes granting the attorney general contract review power extend only to ensuring that the documents are in order.
But the law has no language to limit the attorney general's scope in his reviewing and approving the contracts, though Edwards says the statutes implicitly do. Judges will have to sort this out, no doubt at some cost to the taxpayers.
By framing the issue as an overreach by Landry, Edwards is deftly avoiding the real issue, which is his questionable executive order. Mimicking what many leftist intellectuals once said concerning the West’s opposition to communism, the governor said that Landry's opposition to his executive order placed him “on the wrong side of history.”
Communism, of course, ended up on the ash heap of history. We should recognize that defining protected classes on the basis of behavior (besides existing constitutional protections for speech and religious belief) rather than on the immutability of genetics has less to do with historical imperative than with fashion and fad. Regardless, the legislative process – not executive dictates – should establish public policy preferences on issues like this.
Should lawmakers vote to overturn the governor's executive order, Edwards would certainly veto such a move, and prospects for an override would be uncertain to say the least. But the request for Landry to review the contracts came from a significant number of legislators, who for whatever reasons did not seek to overturn the order during their last regular session. They should take Edwards to court over the issue, which raises legitimate concerns about usurpation of legislative powers.
Resolution of both Edwards’ suit and a potential legal case from lawmakers could help affirm of the rule of law. Yet the more important question of overreach is not on Landry’s part, but whether with his order Edwards has claimed powers beyond his office. The legislators who requested an official opinion on this need to follow the courage of their convictions, regardless of what beliefs society deems trendy.
Jeff Sadow is an associate professor of political science at Louisiana State University Shreveport, where he teaches Louisiana Government. He is author of a blog about Louisiana politics at http://www.between-lines.com, where links to information in this column may be found. When the Louisiana Legislature is in session, he writes about legislation in it at http://www.laleglog.com. Follow him on Twitter @jsadowadvocate. Email him at email@example.com. His views do not necessarily express those of his employer.