BATON ROUGE, La. (WAFB/WVUE) - Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry issued an opinion Wednesday, July 15 calling Governor John Bel Edwards’ latest executive order, which imposes a statewide mask mandate and places restrictions on bars, unconstitutional.
Edwards issued the mandate Saturday, July 11 during a press conference as the state continues to see a spike in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations.
“After careful consideration, it is my opinion as to the chief legal officer of the State that the order does not pass the constitutional test,” Landry said.
He also called the mandate “unenforceable.”
Read Landry’s entire statement below:
Landry released the opinion just one day after he disclosed that he tested positive for the COVID-19 virus. The attorney general did not meet with Vice President Mike Pence during his visit to Baton Rouge with state officials “out of an abundance of caution.”
Landry, who is the legal advisor to the Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness (GOHSEP), also said he was not consulted by Edwards before the governor announced the executive order on Saturday, July 11.
“Although the mask mandate and the 50 person limit may be good recommendations for personal safety, they may not be enforced with financial or criminal penalties,” Landry said at the ened of his opinion issued Wednesday.
Gov. Edwards responded to the opinion on his weekly call-in show on WRKF saying “There is no doubt in my mind that what we did is warranted by COVID-19 and it’s required.” He also stated that the mandate is within his powers under emergency orders and that his order was supported by Vice President Pence and Dr. Deborah Birx with the White House’s Coronavirus Task Force.
“If ever there were a time to put politics aside to govern, it is now when we are in the middle of a public health crisis that affects all Louisianans regardless of their beliefs or political affiliation,” Edwards said in a statement issued following his radio show Wednesday afternoon.
See the full statement from Edwards below:
“If ever there were a time to put politics aside to govern, it is now when we are in the middle of a public health crisis that affects all Louisianans regardless of their beliefs or political affiliation. I wish Jeff Landry would listen to his own words from March 18 when he stood with me and said extraordinary measures were necessary to protect the people of our state during this COVID-19 crisis, encouraged Louisianans to follow my directives and said he was united with me in protecting the health and safety of the people of our state. I’m not sure what has changed since then, aside from the loss of 3,300 additional lives and more than 80,000 additional Louisianans becoming infected.”
Louisiana continues to follow guidance from the White House and, just yesterday, I hosted Vice President Mike Pence and members of the federal White House Coronavirus Task Force in Louisiana, which is considered by the federal government to be in the ‘red zone’ for new cases. Vice President Pence said he agreed with the steps I have taken in Louisiana and encouraged our people to wear masks and abide by my reasonable regulations. In fact, on Monday’s White House call with governors, Dr. Deborah Birx, the coordinator of the federal coronavirus response, singled out my actions, including the mask mandate, as a ‘best practice’ for states with rising cases.
Last week, Louisiana had 243 new cases per 100,000 people, whereas across the country, the average was only 119 new cases per 100,000 people. We clearly have a COVID-19 problem in Louisiana and I will not let our state go back to a time when we risked being able to provide health care for our people, which also would put our economy in peril, despite what the Attorney General may want,” Edwards said.
Edwards also said on the radio, “It’s unfortunate, but we know we’re doing what’s right, we know we’re doing what we’re authorized to do under the law. And I would hope that the Attorney General would resend the opinion and get back in line with what he was saying just a couple of months ago,” he said.
The Governor clearly referring to this news conference at the start of this pandemic back in March, when the Attorney General joined him at the podium.
“Some have asked me if he has the governor has the authority to take certain actions like limiting the size of public gatherings, suspending public deadlines, or ordering restaurants and bars to limit their service. The short answer is yes,” said Attorney General Landry on March 18.
The opinion by the Attorney General essentially says that now he’s concerned that with additional restrictions being put on Louisiana residents, there’s really no way to measure how successful they are.
However, if you try to go into the Livingston building where the Department of Justice is located, it has a sign out front that says face coverings must be worn.
Mr. Landry could not meet Vice President Pence in Baton Rouge, due to his diagnosis of coronavirus. When the VP was asked his opinion on the Governor mandating statewide face coverings, Pence says that each state and local municipality is different.
“Make it clear to the people of Louisiana that we support Governor John Bel Edwards and his health officials decisions. And we encourage people to heed the guidance of state and local authorities. And in regards to wearing a mask, it’s just always a good idea,” said Vice President Mike Pence.
While the legality of the opinion is still really unclear, a legal analyst says the Governor mandate is well within his powers.
“We’ve already seen it done, and it’s been done all across America it’s clearly constitutional, it’s an emergency situation and Governor’s have this type of power,” said Joe Raspanti, a legal analyst at our sister station FOX8 in New Orleans.
WAFB reached out to Attorney General’s Office for an interview with Jeff Landry, but did not hear back yet.
We did hear from Representative Blake Miguez, his name is on the nine-page document.
Miguez told WAFB’s Lester Duhe’ that Landry isn’t against wearing masks, but added he thinks it’s more of an overreach of government mandating people to do so. And this document could be used as evidence, if this ever goes to court.
Pence visited with Edwards Tuesday to discuss testing and the state’s COVID-19 response.
In May, Landry issued a mandate for the Louisiana Department of Justice stating that all employees working in the office building are required to wear face masks.
On Wednesday, the Louisiana Department of Health reported 2,095 new cases of the COVID-19.