Edwards defends LGBT-rights order in appeal

BATON ROUGE — Gov. John Bel Edwards is defending his executive order that aimed to protect the rights of LGBT people in state government, saying in an appeal filed Monday that a judge erred in deciding the governor overstepped his legal authority.

Edwards formally challenged Judge Todd Hernandez’ ruling in a Baton Rouge-based appeals court, nearly three months after Hernandez ruled the Democratic governor violated Louisiana’s constitutional separation of powers by banning discrimination in government and state contracts based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

The judge blocked Edwards’ order in December, in response to a lawsuit from Republican Attorney General Jeff Landry, a frequent Edwards critic and possible challenger for governor in 2019. Hernandez agreed with Landry that Edwards’ order unconstitutionally sought to create state law. Louisiana lawmakers have refused to add such LGBT-rights protections in state law.

In the appeal, Edwards lawyer Matthew Block says a governor has authority to set policies and direct contract terms for the executive branch of government.

“The trial court’s ruling creates a slippery slope as it relates to the governor’s constitutional authority as the chief executive officer of the state,” Block wrote.

Block says Edwards’ order was consistent with directives issued by previous Louisiana governors Edwin Edwards and Kathleen Blanco, both Democrats. Block says it doesn’t usurp legislative authority, as the judge suggested.

The order, Block wrote, “is a policy directive concerning state employment and the contractual provision of state services. It does not have the effect or force of law. It establishes a principle significant to Gov. Edwards — that discrimination is not a Louisiana value — through a valid mechanism for issuing executive branch directives.”

When Edwards issued his order in April 2016, Landry blocked dozens of legal services contracts that contain the anti-discrimination language. After Hernandez declared the order invalid, the LGBT protections were stripped from the contracts, and the stalemate ended.

As part of the lawsuit, Hernandez also upheld the right of the attorney general’s office to use its discretion in approving legal services contracts. The judge also refused Edwards’ request to declare the governor has a superior role to the attorney general in legal matters involving the state’s interests.

Edwards also is appealing those decisions, with Block writing that the attorney general lacks the legal authority to determine the “overall policy of the executive branch of the state of Louisiana.”

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