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Louisiana Governor Sues State's Own Attorney General

By Casey C. Sullivan, Esq. on October 10, 2016 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Political dysfunction is nothing new, but the recent spat between Louisiana's governor and the state's attorney general seems to take state government infighting to new extremes. Governor John Bel Edwards recently sued the state's own attorney general, Jeff Landry, in order to keep the attorney general from blocking state contracts.

The dispute stems from a disagreement over anti-discrimination protections for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender workers. Edwards wants them, Landry does not, and he has refused to approve state contracts with LGBT antidiscrimination provisions. "He basically told me that if I wanted him to approve those contracts that I would have to sue him," Governor Edwards said after he filed suit. "So I'm obliging him on that."

No, Yes, and No Again

Governor Edwards was elected as governor of Louisiana in 2015. A Democrat, he replaced Louisiana's two-term Republican governor Bobby Jindal. As governor, Jindal issued a "Marriage and Conscience" executive order which barred the state from taking punitive action against individuals or businesses who acted based on a "religious belief that marriage is or should be recognized as the union of one man and one woman."

Edwards rescinded that order and issued his own, protecting workers with the state or state contractors from being fired due to their sexual orientation or gender identity. The order was similar to protections that were in place before Governor Jindal's election, though Edwards' order reached further, protecting transgender workers along with gays and lesbians.

Landry wasn't a fan. The Republican attorney general issued an opinion stating that Edwards' order was invalid and unenforceable. The attorney general has since rejected dozens of contracts from state agencies that include LGBT anti-discrimination protections.

Everyone Says Everyone Else Is Abusing Their Authority

Both sides accuse the other of abusing their authority. Governor Edwards may be allowed to issue executive orders, but the state's separation of powers doctrine prevents him from using those orders to create substantive law, Landry argues.

"He doesn't get to make law," Landry said. "That's the legislature's job. He gets to execute it."

Edwards, however, sees the attorney general as the one who is out of line. "The attorney general has overstepped the authority given to his office and he is now attempting to erode the constitutionally granted executive power of the governor and is disrupting the work of state agencies," the governor said in May, when Landry first came out against the executive order.

Terry Ryder, an attorney who has worked with several Louisiana governors, offered perhaps the best summary of the dispute: "One of them is the governor, and the other one wants to be the governor," Ryder told the Times-Picayune.

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