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After ruling, Edwards must avoid acting irresponsibly

Louisiana’s Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards loves to implore state policy-makers to work together. Now he has a chance to put his money where his mouth is.

Yesterday, state District Court Judge Todd Hernandez handed Edwards a setback in a case involving his executive order JBE 16-11, which sets out parameters for employment and contracting provisions engaged in by the state. It sets up a number of protected classes that largely mirror federal and state law, except that it adds in classes of “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” – terms nowhere defined by any law.

This prompted Republican Atty. Gen. Jeff Landry to sue Edwards to prevent application of the order in its entirety. Landry’s special concern came in contracting, as the attorney general must sign off on state contracts for these to become valid – a power Edwards already had challenged unsuccessfully in a different court. Because contracts emanating from the Division of Administration contained the phrasing reflecting the order, Landry refused to approve of these (including one that would shift funds to his office), as well as those from other agencies, due to his interpretation that a governor could not expand unilaterally these classes, in effect creating law. For the same reason, the House Appropriations Committee refused to approve of contracts it needed to vet.

Hernandez agreed, in a well-reasoned opinion, saying the order exceeded gubernatorial authority as established in the Constitution, although denying broader application of the U.S. Constitution to the question. Further, he declared that the Attorney General’s office does not in certain areas have powers in statute subordinate to the governor, dealing a second defeat to Edwards on this question. Whether that means an Attorney General could refuse to sign a contract that in every way complied with the law the judge put off addressing, seeing no actual controversy there at present.

Since Landry had begun refusing to approve contracts, the Edwards Administration complained that this disrupted the business of the state and fomented political grandstanding. The ruling clearly invalidates the latter assertion, demonstrating the important constitutional issue involved. The question now is whether Edwards wishes to grandstand politically himself, by refusing to remove the offending language and resubmitting contracts for approval.

The court ruled; his argument lost, and if he genuinely had concern for the state’s ability to conduct business as his administration has stated, and in the larger context of working together that he has so often preached, he will send revised contracts without the wording to Landry. He can appeal if he likes and, although the argumentation clearly appears to favor Landry’s position, courts can make anti-intellectual decisions that some months down the road could hand him a win on this matter, and he then could reinstate the verbiage.

But until and if that ever happens, Edwards must follow the law – and his own shopworn plea to work together, trotted out time and again when he met defeat on public policy battles involving the budget, taxes, and regulation – or else the state suffers. Any other course of action and he acts both irresponsibly and hypocritically.

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