COVID-19 stretched our legal system and raised questions not easily answered by existing law. One recent question surrounds a dispute between the Governor and the State Legislature regarding the constitutionality of the Governor’s proclamation of a public health emergency in response to COVID-19. Recently, in Governor John Bel Edwards v. Louisiana State Legislature, Louisiana House of Representatives, & Clay Schexnayder, in his official capacity as Speaker of the House of Representatives, 2020-CA-1407, the Louisiana Supreme Court was asked to gauge the validity of the legislature’s termination of Governor Edwards’ proclamation. However, the Court did not reach the constitutional questions and remanded the case.
The Governor filed suit to challenge the Legislature’s termination of his COVID-19 proclamation. He argued that the termination was null and void citing both constitutional and non-constitutional grounds. Because the trial court found the termination unconstitutional, it did not address the procedural and non-constitutional challenges raised.
On appeal, the Supreme Court held that the trial court erred in reaching the issue of constitutionality prior to determining whether the dispute could be resolved on non-constitutional grounds. Louisiana law dictates that courts should avoid decisions based upon constitutional grounds unless the constitutional issue is essential to resolution of the case. Although the issues to be addressed were important to the citizens of Louisiana, the Court stated “it is critical a case must reach this court in the proper procedural posture to warrant our review of a ruling on constitutionality.”
The case highlights the role of the Louisiana Supreme Court and reminds both attorneys and the public of how issues are addressed and decided. The Court was express that the issues presented in Edwards were novel and important and may ultimately be issues the high court will choose to address. However, the Court recognized that its powers of constitutional review are constrained by procedure. A civics lesson in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Virginia “Jenny” McLin is a partner at Keogh Cox who practices in the fields of corporate litigation, insurance defense and workers compensation defense. When she is not practicing law, Jenny can be found volunteering with the Junior League of Baton Rouge; cheering for the LSU Tigers with her husband Ryan; or shuffling her two kids to and from dance practice.