Louisiana Republicans don’t plan to sue over mask order, leader says

By: - July 17, 2020 5:11 pm

(Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

State Rep. Blake Miguez, chairman of the House Republican caucus, said Friday that there are no plans for Louisiana House Republicans to take legal action against the governor’s mandatory mask requirement after an opinion from Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry that says the order “does not pass the constitutional test” and “cannot be enforced with criminal or financial sanctions.

Also Friday, Rep. Clay Schexnayder, the Republican House speaker, sent a strong message to other Republican House members advising them to not proceed with their plan to muster up the votes to take away Gov. John Bel Edwards’ emergency powers.

The attorney general’s official opinion was addressed to the eight Republican lawmakers who sought his opinion: Larry Bagley, Rick Edmonds, Alan Seabaugh, Charles “Chuck” Owen , Dodie Horton, Beau Beaullieu and Miguez in the House and Robert Mills in the state Senate. Seabaugh has sponsored the bill that would wrest power away from the governor.

“It is our prerogative to override the governor should we choose to,” Schexnayder wrote in a text message to Republicans House members that was shared with the Illuminator. “But if we do that, we should understand that our decision will not only affect the health and wellbeing of our citizens with regard to COVID-19 but also their safety should a natural disaster strike. The decisions we make in the following days and weeks could have dramatic unintended consequences for the entire state. As your leader, I simply ask that you weigh the risks before making your decision.” 

Opinions from the state attorney general’s office are advisory and do not carry the force of law, but the opinion calling the governor’s order unconstitutional would likely be quoted by any bar owner or business owner who files a lawsuit challenging the order.

Though Miguez said his fellow Republicans won’t file suit, he didn’t express opposition to others doing so. “It would not surprise me if some of the people affected in the private sector are filing class action lawsuits,” Miguez said, “ because, especially in the case of the bar owners, many of those individuals will have zero income now.”

Edwards’ order, which went into effect Monday, July 13, not only requires that all Louisianians 8-years-old and above wear masks — and that business owners make sure their customers wear them — but it also shuts down bars and restricts the size of social gatherings, inside and outside.

“I just got bombarded with phone calls over the weekend,” said Miguez said. “Receiving calls from small business owners, bar owners, grocery stores, convenient stores, basically all asking me ‘is this legal?’ I said, ‘Well, that question is best for our attorney general.’”

Miguez said he and other representatives then contacted Landry with a series of questions about the order’s legality and enforcability. The official opinion from Landry’s office is that its neither legal nor enforceable.

“I’m standing up for the small-business community,” said Miguez. “We got to get our economy back up. I want it to open up as quickly and as safely as possible, but the governor’s not sitting on any benchmarks. It’s just: Let’s keep adding restrictions and let’s keep adding mandates.”

At a Thursday afternoon press conference, Edwards said his order remains in effect, and Friday, he published a letter he sent to Landry Thursday evening. Pushing back on Landry’s assertion that he wasn’t consulted on the governor’s order despite his role as “legal advisor Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness,” Edwards wrote, “Almost every other statewide official participates in these (GOHSEP) meetings personally,” but that Landry had made the decision not to attend.

Edwards said he has allowed “the facts, the data, and the experts to guide my decisions as we respond to this global pandemic.”  

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JC Canicosa
JC Canicosa

JC Canicosa is a former Louisiana Illuminator reporter. Prior to working with the Illuminator, Canicosa worked for Investigate-TV and The Loyola Maroon. Canicosa earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Loyola University New Orleans. At Loyola, he was the senior staff writer at The Maroon and the president of the school's chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. Off the clock, Canicosa enjoys playing basketball, watching movies and dabbling in comedy writing.