Judge denies request to enforce petition ending Louisiana’s coronavirus restrictions

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BATON ROUGE – A judge has denied a request from Louisiana Republicans to force Governor John Bel Edwards to temporarily drop the state’s coronavirus restrictions.

The mandamus from Attorney General Jeff Landry would have ordered that the governor abide by the petition signed by lawmakers last month which called for the state to end its coronavirus regulations, including the statewide mask order, for one week.

Judge William Morvant of the 19th JDC denied that request, citing that the petition was void since it specifically targeted Edwards’ previous iteration of the phase 3 order which ended Nov. 6. Morvant also ruled the law House Republicans used to send Gov. Edwards the petition last month is unconstitutional because it didn’t have the approval of both chambers of the legislature.

Judge Morvant made the ruling over a zoom call limited to 300 participants.

Lawmakers in the House signed the petition in late October, calling on the Governor to fully reopen the state, but the Governor refused saying, “If I understand their intentions, I can tell you that it’s reckless, irresponsible, and unconscionable.”

The governor further defended his executive orders Wednesday, pointing to what’s happening in Texas, where cases, hospitalizations and deaths have surged, and officials are wheeling in trailers to serve as morgues in El Paso to accommodate a dramatic increase in deaths.

“While I pray it doesn’t happen here in Louisiana, we’re not immune from that,” Edwards said. “It’s inexplicable, and it’s unconscionable that people would both insist on the one hand that we open up our economy to the maximum degree that we can and yet they don’t want to wear a mask. It just doesn’t work that way.”

“You can’t get through it just because a few people in the Legislature say they’re tired of it.”

Landry, however, argued that the governor is breaking the law by refusing to cancel his rules, which the petition signed by 65 of 68 House Republicans ordered.

While addressing a group of restriction-weary Livingston Parish residents, the Attorney General praised South Dakota because leaders there didn’t “lock down” residents.

Lawmakers in the Dakotas have decided against implementing many of the restrictions put in place by Edwards.

That said, these two states have also experienced a shocking uptick in deaths over the past month. North Dakota is reeling from just over 57,000 cases and 691 deaths while South Dakota is dealing with more than 58,000 cases and 567 deaths.

According to The Advocate, Landry’s office also pointed to a statement the Attorney General had previously issued, arguing that the governor doesn’t have “police powers” to enforce restrictions unless the Legislature gives them to him, and pushing back against the governor’s claims the petition is unconstitutional.

“Thursday’s hearing is not about undermining the validity of public health precautions; rather, it is about upholding the very fabric of our Louisiana Constitution,” Landry said in the statement. “Statute clearly outlines that the governor cannot ignore or reject the checks and balances that underpin our government. If we allow this to happen once, when will it stop?”

The governor has already successfully defended his restrictions from at least three lawsuits, including one state and two federal district courts.

Jimmy Faircloth, former attorney to Gov. Bobby Jindal who filed the two federal complaints on behalf of bar owners, appealed the rulings and said he is awaiting a decision. 

Additionally, last week, Judge Morvant last week declined a request by Landry’s office to block the governor from extending his coronavirus restrictions until he complies with the petition. This cleared the way for the governor to extend the Phase 3 rules for another four weeks. 

As of Thursday, Louisiana’s neighbor to the west, Texas, has recorded 1.02 million coronavirus cases and over 19,000 deaths since the outbreak began in early March.

Meanwhile, Louisiana, though statistically below the nation’s surging rate of COVID cases, is still battling a significant rate of infections.

According to a Tuesday, Nov. 10 report from the White House, Louisiana is currently dealing with 73 new reported cases per 100,000 of its population, and as of this week the state saw 99 new cases per 100,000 population. The national average is 209 per 100,000.

For this reason, local health experts are warning residents to remain cautious, follow social distancing guidelines, and continue to wear their masks in public.

In regards to the health crisis in Louisiana, recent statistics indicate that Caddo Parish, East Baton Rouge Parish, and Jefferson Parish had the highest number of new cases over the last three weeks.

These parishes represent 24.5% of new cases in Louisiana.

A daily COVID virus statistical data update by way of the Louisiana Department of Health can be accessed here

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