BATON ROUGE, La. (CN) — Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards sued Attorney General Jeff Landry for blocking state legal contracts over language meant to protect gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people from workplace discrimination.
Edwards filed the lawsuit in Baton Rouge state court Friday after a meeting with Landry, in which the two public officials were unable to reach an agreement on whether state private-counsel contracts should be worded to protect the rights of gay and lesbian workers, according to an account of the meeting by the Times Picayune.
The petition for writ of mandamus is the Top Download today for Courthouse News.
"[Landry] basically told me that if I wanted him to approve those contracts that I would have to sue him," Edwards said at a Friday press conference. "So I'm obliging him on that."
A court order was issued late in the day Friday stating that Landry must either approve the dozens of legal contracts Edwards has initiated or appear in court with documentation showing the legal counsel members chosen by the governor are somehow unfit to perform the job.
Landry has reportedly blocked nearly 40 legal contracts on the basis that they include language preventing discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. The lawsuit filed Friday lists 16 such contracts.
The attorney general's stated reason for not approving the numerous contracts has been "that the contracting attorneys should not have agreed not to discriminate in employment and the rendering of services in accordance with Executive Order No. JBE 2016-11," according to Edwards' lawsuit.
One portion of that executive order, which went into effect last July, overrides a 2015 order from then-Gov. Bobby Jindal that stipulated the government cannot interfere with a person's religious belief that marriage should be between a man and a woman.
The contracts in question affect legal issues surrounding the state's ports, potential medical malpractice awards for patients, and oversight of state bonds, among other issues. Some of the contracts involve agencies run by Republican officials elected independently of Edwards, according to the Times-Picayune.
"Defendant apparently believes that it is necessary that private attorneys who contract with entities within the executive branch must retain the right to discriminate against persons on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity," the petition states.
Edwards said during his Friday press conference, "I believe he is on the wrong side of the law and the wrong side of history."
The governor said he believes he has the authority to place nondiscrimination language in state contracts as the chief executive officer of the state. Previous Louisiana governors — Kathleen Blanco and Edwin Edwards — issued similar executive orders to protect gay people from discrimination, according to the Times-Picayune.
Landry said at his own press conference Friday that he has refused to sign the legal contracts because state lawmakers have declined several times to pass laws that protect the rights of gay and lesbian people.
"It's unfortunate that the governor continues to want to push for a protected class that the Legislature has six times — with bipartisan support — rejected," Landry said.
He said of the lawsuit, "I look forward to defending the Legislature and their priorities and their wishes."
Representatives from the attorney general's office did not immediately reply to an emailed request for comment Tuesday morning.
The order issued late Friday said an attorney general's approval of private-counsel contracts is "ministerial in nature," and directs Landry to approve the contracts and appoint counsel, or to show why the counsel is not qualified.
A hearing on the matter has been set for Nov. 17 at 1 p.m.
Edwards' lawsuit was filed by Matthew Block, executive counsel for the Office of the Governor.Follow @https://twitter.com/sabrinacanfiel2
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