This is a big deal, because as we noted Monday and Jeremy Alford discussed at LAPolitics.com Tuesday, what we’re seeing is a new era in Louisiana governance when it’s no longer to be understood that the governor leads where it comes to state policy vis-a-vis the federal government.
Gov. John Bel Edwards announced Thursday that he is ending Louisiana’s lawsuit against President Barack Obama’s administration over the Common Core education standards.
Edwards’ predecessor, Republican Bobby Jindal, filed the federal lawsuit in 2014, as he was readying his failed bid for the GOP presidential nomination and as the multistate math and English standards drew increasing ire from conservatives.
Jindal lost the first round of the litigation. Edwards’ office said the Democratic governor won’t continue with an appeal, instead directing his executive counsel to drop the lawsuit and scrap the contract for the outside lawyer handling the case.
Jindal accused President Barack Obama’s administration of manipulating billions in federal grant money and policy waivers to illegally pressure states to adopt the Common Core standards and associated testing.
But a judge ruled Jindal offered no evidence to support the claim.
Edwards’ office said a recently signed federal law barring the government from mandating standards, combined with Louisiana’s work to rewrite its public school standards, makes the lawsuit “educationally and financially unnecessary.”
“It does not benefit students to continue to use time and resources to pursue litigation that no longer has any bearing on classrooms in Louisiana,” Edwards said in a statement. “Instead, we need to focus on doing everything possible to provide students and teachers with the support they need to ensure a quality educational system.”
We’ll avoid getting into the weeds of Common Core and the state’s implementation of it, and the merits of Jindal’s allegations that the Obama administration was violating the 10th Amendment or Edwards’ allegations that the case is moot. What we’ll say is that Edwards, if he thought he was ending the Common Core case by saying he was dismissing it from the agenda, was wrong. Because this was Jeff Landry’s response this afternoon…
Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry is announcing his intention to review Jindal v. U.S. Department of Education et al, the case commonly referred in Louisiana as the Common Core Lawsuit.
Earlier today, the Governor’s Office issued a press statement indicating they were dropping an appeal of the case. However, by the authority of the Louisiana Constitution, General Landry is intervening and will decide on whether the case will proceed.
“As Louisiana Attorney General, I am intervening in this case and I will determine if it will proceed,” said General Landry.
General Landry will examine the core arguments as they relate to the Tenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Issues surrounding the Tenth Amendment are commonly referred to as “states’ rights” issues.
General Landry will examine the recently passed Federal Every Student Succeeds Act as it relates to the Common Core lawsuit as well as actions that may have been taken by the Federal government both prior and following the Act’s passage.
“Congress reaffirmed that state and local governments control decision-making in Every Student Succeeds. They have reaffirmed this principle in every federal funding law ever passed,” said General Landry. “I want to be sure that the U.S. Department of Education is not holding our local schools hostage. I intend to examine the new law, the lawsuit, and the actions of the Federal government.”
Landry didn’t declare the case was going forward, but what he did do was to brush Edwards aside and assert that he, and not the governor, is the one making decisions about what legal actions the state will be pursuing.
Alford’s piece on Tuesday had an interesting illumination of how this could evolve…
The talk in legal circles last week was that Landry, by cracking open the Louisiana Constitution, was more laying down markers than agreeing to a compromise when his office took over anti-abortion litigation. The Department of Health and Hospitals had awarded the cases, during the last administration, to outside counsel through private contracts. But now Landry’s office has ownership, and they could be the tip of an interesting political spear.
In a separate press release, Gov. John Bel Edwards said his administration agreed to let the AG’s office assume active management of the cases. Those involved say there was no push or shove, describing it as “very friendly” and “not contentious.”
While some state departments and agencies have the authority through statute to take on and sometimes contract out certain legal actions without the AG’s involvement, Landry is relying upon his interpretation of the Louisiana Constitution and he has so far cited Article 4, Section 8 twice in press releases. The section gives his office the authority to institute, prosecute or intervene in any civil or criminal action or proceeding.
There aren’t any big fights brewing over this posturing right now, but they could be on the way. As all of this plays out, probably gradually, legislation may also surface to address whatever misunderstandings there might be between the related statutes and constitutional provisions.
They came sooner than even Alford thought. He also mentioned the strong possibility that Landry might intervene to shut down some of the lawsuits coastal parishes have filed against the oil industry – that was an issue in which Landry’s predecessor Buddy Caldwell was a bit independent of Jindal in encouraging to go forward, and now the circumstances might be reversed.
There is no particular precedent for the Attorney General taking an independent stand from the governor when it comes to defending state policy against the feds or other entities. Past AG’s have always gone with the flow, though legally they weren’t obligated to. Landry has decided he’s going to break with that precedent – and in doing so he is cleaving off an enormous amount of power that Edwards figured he’d have when he was elected. Between that and Edwards losing the House Speaker race and virtually every committee assignment to go with it, John Bel Edwards is looking at four years as the weakest governor in modern Louisiana history.
It might not seem like a major change, but it truly is. And Landry could well be setting himself up as not only Edwards’ prime political problem where governance and policy are concerned, but his primary nemesis in the 2019 elections as well.