…State representative and congressional candidate Mike Johnson has an excellent post here at the Hayride this morning about the background of yesterday’s events, and so it’s not necessary for me to go through the entire story in this post.
But a few things ought to be said, in order to keep yesterday’s result in Judge Don Johnson’s courtroom in perspective.
First, Mike’s post goes through the fact that the state legislature has made a direct policy choice not to create a protected class in Louisiana law for LGBT people, and that’s a choice which has been reinforced over and over again despite bills being brought every session in an attempt to create that class. For a lot of people, like for example the Times-Picayune’s Julia O’Donoghue who made a big deal about how Jeff Landry is anti-gay because he rejected the legal services contracts in question on the basis of their having non-discrimination provisions for LGBT people in her story about the case yesterday, that is the issue.
It’s not the issue. For people with short attention spans or minimal intelligence it can be sold as the issue, but it’s not the issue.
The language in those contracts could cover gays and transsexuals, obese people or blue raccoons. It doesn’t matter. So long as it’s language which doesn’t reflect state law, Jeff Landry is justified in rejecting the contracts. Don Johnson, who is neither the actor of Miami Vice and Tin Cup fame nor any particular conservative – he’s a pretty reliable liberal black Democrat – recognized that and bounced John Bel Edwards and his executive counsel Matthew Block straight out of court on the question.
As for the idea that Landry is anti-gay because he objected to extralegal language – meaning language not reflective of state law – in a state contract, understand something more important. Namely, that this is but one justification Landry has for rejecting the contracts in question. He also rejected them because the governor is trying to pay his private cabal of attorneys, headed by his pal Taylor Townsend who also runs his PAC and was the co-chair of his transition team, rates far above the approved state figure and potentially also contingency fees, which represent more illegalities in the contracts. If Edwards has sued Landry on the basis that he believes he can overpay that private cabal of lawyers, we don’t know about it – something tells us he’s not going to do that, as a suit claiming Landry is anti-gay is a little better from a PR standpoint than a suit claiming the Attorney General is anti-waste-and-corruption.
From Landry’s perspective, though, he’s after something bigger. He’s armed with legal justifications for rejecting these contracts, because they’re poorly written, but he’s also trying to block Edwards from hiring a bunch of lawyers to take pot shots at the oil and gas industry in these stupid coastal lawsuits as a matter of policy. And as the state’s chief legal officer, Jeff Landry believes, quite possibly rightly, that he’s within his purview to make a decision on what the state government should be doing in courtrooms.
If John Bel Edwards doesn’t like that, then maybe he should have made sure someone more compliant than Landry got elected AG.
Landry is going to use everything at his disposal to block the contracts for Townsend and the rest of Edwards’ private legal cabal. Edwards simply put on the mantle of protecting gay people in an effort to make Landry look bad, but it’s all a sideshow.
After the ruling was handed down yesterday, Block called it a “procedural” decision. That’s a signal that what the governor is really after is an attempt to define Landry’s authority on approving legal contracts. Landry is claiming he has veto power on those contracts as a check on the governor’s power; Edwards’ position is that all Landry has is a rubber stamp. The fight over the LGBT language is essentially a preseason game within that controversy, because if Landry is right, and according to Johnson he is, that the language made the contracts illegal then even without veto power Landry was within his rights to turn the contracts down for specific cause.
So Edwards will go back to the drawing board and rewrite those contracts. And then Landry will reject them not on the basis of legal minutiae but as a matter of policy.
When he does, we’ll eventually get to the meat of the argument, which is going to be a very big deal soon – which is whether the governor of Louisiana has the unilateral power to hire lawyers to sue on behalf of the state, or whether anyone in state government holds a check on that power.
And this is virgin constitutional territory of sorts in Louisiana, and something of a constitutional crisis that Edwards has brought on. We’ve not had such a controversy previously, because (1) this is a level of gubernatorial overreach we’ve not seen even from some of the rather tyrannical governors we’ve had in the state’s past, and (2) because Landry is the first truly independent attorney general Louisiana has had in memory. Previous governors who decided to be sue-happy had the whole state government behind them; this one is trying to go it alone.
And that constitutional crisis is a hell of a lot more important than the petty question about hypothetical discrimination against gays and transsexuals in some obscure legal contracts. Which is why it’s such a disservice that the state’s mainstream media is spending all its time huffing and puffing about the latter.