House petition case: Gov. asks court to stop GOP opponents from interfering with orders

Edwards v. House continues with second round of litigation

By: - July 19, 2021 6:30 am
House petition case: Governor asks court to stop GOP from interfering

The Louisiana Supreme Court building on Royal Street in New Orleans. The statue of segregationist Edward White, a former Louisiana Supreme Court justice and Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court was relocated inside Wednesday. (Photo by Jarvis DeBerry)

Gov. John Bel Edwards scored an early victory last week in the second round of the Edwards v. House petition case in which his Republican opponents tried to employ a never-before-used statute to temporarily suspend the state’s COVID-19 restrictions last year.

At the July 12 hearing, Judge William Morvant in the 19th Judicial District Court in Baton Rouge dismissed a new motion filed by Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry and reiterated his previous dismissal of a motion filed by Louisiana House Speaker Clay Schexnayder, according to Matthew Block, who serves as the governor’s executive counsel. Landry’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment Friday.

Block said the only claim left in the case is one filed by the governor, who has asked the court to prohibit the defendants from interfering with or trying to terminate any of his future orders.  

“Basically what the judge decided is that the case is going to continue on with the governor’s claim, which is the only one left,” Block said. “The governor’s orders continue to remain in effect.”

The case stems from Oct. 23, the last day of the Legislature’s 2020 second special session, when 65 of the 68 House Republicans signed a petition that tried to force a 7-day suspension of the statewide public health emergency and all its coronavirus restrictions. The House petition was a last-ditch effort by those GOP lawmakers to check the Democratic governor’s use of his emergency powers. None of Louisiana’s Senate Republicans signed it. 

The House members argued that their petition was valid because of a Louisiana statute that states: “The Legislature, by petition signed by a majority of the surviving members of either house, may terminate a state of disaster or emergency at any time…Thereupon, the governor shall issue an executive order or proclamation ending the state of disaster or emergency.”

Edwards immediately responded with a lawsuit arguing that the House petition was unconstitutional because it “contravenes Louisiana’s separation of powers principles” because “a single chamber cannot enact legislation without the majority vote of the Senate and without the governor’s approval.”

In the court’s first ruling in November, Morvant agreed with Edwards that the statute allowing a single chamber to end an order by petition was unconstitutional. However, the state Supreme Court vacated that ruling and sent the case back to Morvant, citing a procedural error that he improperly ruled on the constitutionality of the law before determining if the members of the House had properly followed that law.

The next hearing in the case has not yet been scheduled.

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Wesley Muller
Wesley Muller

Wes Muller traces his journalism roots back to 1997 when, at age 13, he built and launched a hyper-local news website for his New Orleans neighborhood. In the following 22 years since then, he has worked as a journalist for the Times-Picayune in New Orleans, the Sun Herald in Biloxi, WAFB-9News CBS in Baton Rouge, and the Enterprise-Journal in McComb, Mississippi. Much of his work has involved reporting on First Amendment issues and watchdog coverage of municipal and state government. He has received several honors and recognitions, including McClatchy's National President's Award, the Associated Press Freedom of Information Award, and the Daniel M. Phillips Freedom of Information Award from the Mississippi Press Association, among others. Muller is a New Orleans native, a Jesuit High School alumnus, a University of New Orleans alumnus, a veteran U.S. Army paratrooper, and an adjunct English teacher at Baton Rouge Community College. He lives in Ponchatoula, Louisiana, with his teenage son and his wife, who is also a journalist.

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