Louisiana's Governor Banned LGBT Discrimination in State Government. Then a Judge Said He Can't.

by | December 15, 2016

By Mark Ballard

Gov. John Bel Edwards overstepped his authority in an order requiring state agencies and private companies contracting for state work to not discriminate against lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender people in the workplace, a district judge in Baton Rouge ruled Wednesday morning.

19th Judicial District Court Judge Todd Hernandez affirmed the constitutional independence of the Attorney General's office and noted that a Governor cannot act outside the scope of his authority by creating law with executive orders.

"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."

"We are disappointed in the court's ruling today," Edwards said in a prepared statement. "However, we fully intend to appeal this issue, which is how the parties knew that this matter would ultimately be resolved."

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.

Landry had refused to approve contracts with the wording from governor's executive order included.

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."

"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 today 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."

Edwards' attorneys argued that the executive order was not creating new law, merely directing policy for state employment and contracts.

Hernandez 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." He found that the order violated the separation of powers provisions in the state constitution.

(c)2016 The Advocate, Baton Rouge, La.