The Center Square’s David Jacobs had a pretty good rundown this morning of the latest doings in the court battle over the Louisiana House of Representatives’ petition to reopen the state. An excerpt…
Louisiana’s attorney general and House of Representatives speaker on Thursday filed a counterclaim against Gov. John Bel Edwards, as the legal battle over the governor’s COVID-19 restrictions began in earnest.
Edwards on Monday took legal action against the Legislature and House Speaker Clay Schexnayder, asking the 19th Judicial District Court to quash a petition signed by most House Republicans purporting to suspend the governor’s public health emergency declaration for seven days.
While the various mandates Edwards has imposed since March meant to control the spread of the new coronavirus initially had broad bipartisan support, Republicans in recent months have objected to the continuation of those emergency measures and their lack of input into those decisions.
Attorney General Jeff Landry filed the response on Schexnayder’s behalf.
“The Governor not only rejected attempts by one of his co-equal branches of government to provide input and oversight, but he also ignored the checks and balances that underpin our government,” Landry said in a prepared statement. “He then filed a lawsuit in an attempt to gain extraordinary powers unfounded in law.”
Edwards argues the statute that allows either chamber of the Legislature to suspend a public health emergency is unconstitutional. Limiting the governor’s emergency authority has the effect of legislation, which one body cannot do alone, the administration argues.
Even if the statute is constitutional, Edwards says, the House members didn’t properly consult with state public health experts as the law requires. The fact that the petition only calls for a seven-day suspension indicates the goal was political and not motivated by evidence that the public health emergency had ended, he argues.
But Schexnayder and the attorney general’s office counter that the governor’s orders effectively have been making law, violating the separation of powers under the constitution. For only one chamber to exercise oversight over the executive branch is not a foreign concept, the counterclaim adds.
Landry did something fun in the response he filed late yesterday, which is that it contained a plea for a writ of mandamus directing Edwards to issue a proclamation that his declaration of an emergency was terminated. This is what Edwards is legally required to do per state law, and – wannabe dictator that he is – has so far refused to do despite the fact that strategically it’s a mistake not to.
Remember – the petition the House filed a week ago only places a seven-day moratorium on Edwards with respect to his re-filing an emergency declaration and re-imposing all his mandates and restrictions. If Edwards wasn’t such a control freak and a wannabe autocrat, he would have signed off on the petition and he would be re-issuing a new emergency declaration today. He could be taking Louisiana back to Phase One today if he wanted to and it’s unlikely the House would be able to do much about it.
But the idea that the legislature would check John Bel Edwards’ agglomeration of power unto himself is such an affront to his feelings and such a threat to his self-esteem, that he couldn’t do the strategic thing and bide his time for those seven days. Instead, he has for a week openly broken Louisiana law and thrown the state into a constitutional crisis.
So be it.
Edwards is already at a disadvantage, as when he filed his lawsuit against House Speaker Clay Schexnayder he was hoping to land the case in front of the worst judge in all of Louisiana, Democrat Party apparatchik and machine pol Janice Clark. But that didn’t happen. Instead, the case landed on Judge Billy Morvant’s desk. Morvant, unlike Clark, is somebody you can’t hide something from by putting it in a law book (she never bothers to look for anything in law books). As such, all of the principles of legal analysis which would evade Clark will be fully litigated in Morvant’s court.
Which is why Landry’s couching of that writ of mandamus inside of a reconventional demand (essentially a countersuit, for those who don’t know much about legal jargon) was an interesting bit of strategy. In doing so the Attorney General’s office made sure it was Morvant, rather than some other judge at the 19th Judicial District Court, which could have been Clark or one of the other bad eggs (like Trudy White, for example), who’ll decide that question.
There isn’t a hearing set yet, but one is likely coming next week. And those fireworks will make for some very interesting times to add to the fireworks surrounding the presidential election.