Landry at the Republican Attorneys General Association’s annual conference, Nov. 2020. Image credit: Bayou Brief.

THREE

I FEEL STUPID & CONTAGIOUS

In the late summer of 1959 and in the throes of a campaign for Louisiana Lt. Governor, necessary because of a state law prohibiting him, the incumbent governor, from succeeding himself in office, Gov. Earl K. Long had some choice words for his attorney general, Jack P.F. Gremillion, after learning Gremillion would not be endorsing him that year, telling a crowd, “If you want to hide something from Jack Gremillion, put it in a law book.”

Even for Uncle Earl, Louisiana’s poet laureate of the pejorative, the line was especially savage.

Clancy DuBos of Gambit has dusted off the old insult at least twice during the past five years to describe the state’s current attorney general, first in 2016 in a column about Landry’s cynical grandstanding over the issue of “sanctuary cities” and then again in 2020, in reaction to Landry’s condescending and patronizing responses to a pair of courtroom humiliations. In October, Judge Lewis Pitman of the 16th Judicial District, ruling from the bench, dismissed Landry’s lawsuit seeking to block local election officials from receiving $7.8 million in grant funding to purchase technological upgrades and personal protective equipment and to cover overtime labor costs in advance of the November election. Landry had dubiously claimed he was concerned about the “corrosive influence” of outside money, an argument that borrowed so heavily from liberal critiques of the Court’s ruling in Citizens United, it was impossible to avoid picking up on a tone of smug self-satisfaction. Of course, Landry’s real objection was over any attempt to facilitate voting. Who did he think he was fooling by pretending to care about the influence of outside money in anything?

The lawsuit was made necessary, by the way, after a bill that sought to prohibit grant funding for clerks of court and registrars of voters failed in the legislature. The bill was authored by Blake Miguez, best-known for including helpful weather tips in tweets insulting U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy (It was true. Cassidy shouldn’t have expected a “warm welcome” when he returned to Louisiana; temperatures were below freezing).

“The judge said we had no cause of action. I just think he was a little confused. These issues can sometimes become complicated. I think he misapplied the procedure,” said Landry, a man who believes the word “plethora” is pronounced “pleth-or-ee-ah.”

Landry’s remarks “may have violated the Code of Professionalism and the Rules of Professional Conduct,” noted DuBos, who earned his Juris Doctor in 1993 from Loyola Law School, which also happens to be Landry’s alma mater as well. “[E]ven freshmen law students know that the rules of ethics and professionalism frown upon lawyers publicly dissing judges. Plus, it’s just plain stupid for a lawyer to behave that way.”

Landry was similarly petulant after Judge William Morvant, a conservative, ruled against Republican members of the state house who hoped to rescind Gov. John Bel Edwards’ emergency declaration over the coronavirus pandemic. Lawmakers had relied on a state statute that ostensibly allowed an emergency order to be temporarily suspended by a petition of only a simple majority of either the state house or state senate, a procedure that raises obvious questions about checks and balances. (Morvant had also ruled that the statute was unconstitutional, but on appeal, the state supreme court held that he would need to try that issue separately).

Landry had been touting the case for weeks. He repeatedly encouraged his followers on social media to tune in, providing them with the Zoom link that had been intended to be given only to the parties involved and members of the media. As a result, the proceeding became a total fiasco. “Those who did make it into the Zoom hearing included a woman laying in bed, stroking a stuffed animal; someone whose dog barked loudly at one point and someone whose name read ‘John Q. Public,’” Sam Karlin of The Advocate reported.

Because Landry had invited the lady with the stuffed animal, there was at least one state legislator who tried to get into the meeting but couldn’t. Who was the exiled lawmaker? That’d be Blake Miguez, the self-anointed vox populi of Louisiana Twitter and the author of yet another bill attempting to prohibit clerks of court and registrars of voters from receiving grant money to pay for personal protective equipment because he apparently believes in a delusional conspiracy theory in which Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook realizes his dream of becoming the Supreme Ruler of America by donating to a nonprofit organization that offers competitive grant funding for woefully underfunded clerks of court.

A few days before the hearing, Landry also hyped the case up to his colleagues at the Republican Attorneys General Association during their annual conference.

“Everyone can pay attention,” he said during a panel discussion with Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt and Mississippi Attorney General Lynn Fitch. “On Thursday, we’re going to be in court, in state court in Louisiana, against the governor (who) basically sued the legislature, the house. Under our Emergency Powers Act, the statute allows one chamber, either the house or the senate, by petition to revoke the governor’s emergency powers, and the house in Louisiana did that by petition. The governor turned around and sued them and said in some odd way—I mean, only the left can do this so well—claims that the law is unconstitutional. I didn’t know that governors had the ability to pick and choose and say, ‘Well, this law is unconstitutional so I’m not going to follow it.'”

For whatever reason, Landry either refused to acknowledge or simply never grasped the fundamental problem with the statute that Republican legislators in the state house were citing as authority: It had— no doubt unintentionally—created an enormous, egregious loophole around the constitutional system of checks and balances, giving a small faction of the legislature a way to undermine and arbitrarily interfere with the state government’s ability to respond during an emergency. Since the statute allows for a simple majority of either chamber to suspend an emergency declaration, then, hypothetically, 20 members of the Louisiana state senate could overturn a declaration supported by the governor, the leaders of every state agency and department, and all 124 of their legislative colleagues. You don’t even need to be a 1L in law school to recognize how the statute improperly distorts the balance of power. The problem was so glaring that many of the Republican lawmakers who signed the petition acknowledged that it was probably unconstitutional.

But Landry’s defense of the patently unconstitutional state statute wasn’t the most absurd or embarrassing part of his remarks at last year’s RAGA conference. Presumably, he didn’t understand that Gov. Edwards’ lawsuit was the only appropriate and legal way to resolve the dispute over the statute’s constitutionality. How could an attorney general, of all people, fail to recognize something so basic?

A couple of weeks ago, when I mentioned I’d been putting together a profile about the life and political career of Jeff Landry to a lawyer who built her career litigating cases involving constitutional and statutory interpretation, she asked me to “go easy on Jeff Landry.” Landry, she said, was “sick the day they taught law at law school.”

The joke isn’t original to Landry; it’s actually from the movie A Few Good Men. But it’s hardly the first time Landry has been ridiculed for his ignorance of the law. In late May of 2019, following the release of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report on the Trump campaign’s connections to the Kremlin’s disinformation campaign during the 2016 election, a report that was itself the subject of a disinformation campaign led by Attorney General Bill Barr prior to its release to the public, Landry attempted to defend the embattled president on Twitter:

Suffice it to say, in this nation, when a court doesn’t find you guilty, it is not, in any way, declaring you to be “innocent.”

If Landry’s misapprehension of the law was inconsequential, then it would be easy enough to dismiss his comments as a triviality or as nothing more than a “gaffe,” but because he occupies the singular position of Louisiana’s chief legal officer, there is no bliss to be found in his ignorance.

In his five years as Louisiana’s attorney general, Landry has collected a staggering number of high-profile losses. Last year, the majority-conservative U.S. Supreme Court handed him a pair of stinging defeats, rejecting his arguments in Ramos v. Louisiana, a landmark decision banning non-unanimous jury verdicts in cases involving serious crimes, and in June Medical Services LLC v. Russo, which held that the Louisiana statute requiring abortion providers have hospital admitting privileges was an unconstitutional “undue burden,” preserving the standard the Court first articulated in its 1992 decision in Planned Parenthood v. Casey.

In both cases, attorney Liz Murrill, who Landry named Louisiana’s “Solicitor General” despite the fact that the title has never been recognized in state law, to present oral arguments in front of the Supreme Court on behalf of the state. And in both cases, Murrill found a majority-conservative Court completely unwilling to buy whatever it was she was selling.

Arguably, Landry’s signature courtroom victory occurred in 2017, during his second year in office. After Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards issued an executive order that expanded workplace protections to transgender state employees and contractors, Landry sued, claiming that Edwards had exceeded his legal authority.

The state supreme court agreed with Landry.

But last year, the U.S. Supreme Court in another landmark decision— Bostock v. Clayton County— wiped away Landry’s one big win, holding that transgender employees were protected under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

The string of courtroom defeats last year culminated in the Supreme Court’s rejection of Texas v. Pennsylvania. According to the New York Times, lawyers working for the Trump White House had unsuccessfully lobbied Landry to take the lead role in what amounted to a last-ditch attempt at overturning the results of the 2020 presidential election. Because of Landry’s reluctance, the case was essentially assigned to Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton. Not that it made any difference. As soon as Paxton submitted the case, U.S. Rep. Mike Johnson announced on Twitter that Landry would be filing a motion to intervene, making him the first attorney general in the nation to sign onto what many believed was nothing more than a cynical attempt by Paxton to ingratiate himself to Trump, with the hope that Trump would pardon him before leaving the White House. That, of course, never happened, and the Supreme Court, as predicted, refused to even allow the case on its docket.

After the Court dismissed the case, Landry issued a statement that completely misrepresented the basic facts. “I wholeheartedly agree with the dissent by Justice Alito and Justice Thomas,” Landry wrote. “This case falls within the Supreme Court’s original jurisdiction, and the motion to file should have been granted. It is incredibly disappointing that the Supreme Court decided to hide behind discretion in a dispute between states.”

In fact, there were no dissenting opinions in the case; Justice Alito wrote a note, which Justice Thomas joined, clarifying that he would have preferred the Court acknowledge its “original jurisdiction” but also making it clear that he would “deny all other relief due to lack of standing, thereby expressing no view on the merits of this matter.”

Despite Landry’s claims to the contrary, the Court’s decision was unanimous.

As we’ve subsequently discovered, however, Landry’s disingenuous and false characterization of the Supreme Court’s decision may have been motivated by another concern. At the time, Landry was the outgoing Chair of the Republican Attorneys General Association and a co-chair of RAGA’s political arm, the Rule of Law Defense Fund. Both organizations allegedly worked closely with the Trump campaign in their attempt at publicizing and legitimizing the “Big Lie” that became central to the Jan. 6th insurrection at the Capitol.

On Jan. 5, the Rule of Law Defense Fund paid for a robo-call that encouraged people to show up for the march that morphed into a mob, and while Landry has denied having any knowledge of the activities of an organization he co-chairs and, like other Republican attorneys general, has pinned blame on its executive director (whose willingness to assume the role of “fall guy” was itself suspicious), there is at least one aspect of the story that, until now, has not received the attention it is due.

Among the promotional materials that listed the Rule of Law Defense Fund as one of 11 sponsoring organizations of the March to Save America on Jan 6 (after originally listing the Republican Attorneys General Association), there were at least three organizations directly tied to Ali Alexander, the far-right extremist and conspiracy theorist who planned and promoted at least one of the rallies that recruited attendees believed to have participated in the insurrection at the Capitol: Stop the Steal, WildProtest, and the Black Conservatives Fund.

I have reported previously on Alexander’s extensive ties to Republican officials in Louisiana. Alexander lived in Baton Rouge from 2015 through 2019, but his work in the state began in 2014, when he claimed to be a “senior advisor” for the Black Conservatives Fund. In reality, Alexander was much more than a “senior advisor;” he effectively ran the entire operation, which made headlines for a deceptively-edited robo-call and a secretly-recorded and deceptively-edited video that attacked incumbent Democrat U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu during her race against Republican U.S. Rep. Bill Cassidy.

As I’ve since discovered, Alexander was friends on Facebook with Landry’s personal account, and perhaps more tellingly, in early December 2014, Landry, then serving as the Louisiana GOP’s Chairman of Voter Integrity, issued a press release about Alexander’s video, which presented an obvious joke made by Opelousas Mayor Don Cravins, Sr., a Landrieu supporter, about voting early and often as if it was tantamount to the confession of a serious crime. Landry’s press release was noticed at the time by Stephen Sabludowsky on his website, Bayou Buzz:

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A decade ago, Landry’s greatest political ambition had been to one day win an election as Sheriff, either of his native St. Martin Parish or Iberia Parish, where his wife’s family holds significant influence. Before hopping aboard the Trump train, Landry rode the Tea Party wave into Congress, winning the seat that was being vacated by Democrat Charlie Melancon by casting himself as a crusader against the nation’s first Black president and by exploiting the anxieties of a region rattled by the BP oil spill.

Before his victory in the 2010 congressional race, Landry’s most notable win was at the 2001 Breaux Bridge Crawfish festival, when he took home first place at the festival’s signature event, the crawfish eating competition, peeling his way through 20 pounds in 45 minutes, a slightly better finish than the previous year’s champion, St. Martin Parish President Scott Angelle, who could only get through 17 pounds and eight ounces before calling it quits. (Still, neither of them were anywhere close to breaking the all-time record, set in 1994 by Nick Steptacovich, who ate an astonishing 55 pounds and 12 ounces). 

Whereas Gov. John Bel Edwards may have seemed like a “long shot” at the time he declared his candidacy in 2013, today, Landry is more well-known and better-funded than any other presumptive candidate, including Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser.

However, that doesn’t necessarily mean that he’d be the immediate frontrunner.

One thing is for certain: If Landry is to be successful in a campaign for governor, then his pathway to victory begins in the prairies and ends in the swamps of Acadiana. According to the state legislature, Acadiana spans across 22 of Louisiana’s 64 parishes. In reality, it’s much smaller than that, but Cajuns have rarely let the facts get in the way of a good story.

Next page: SECTION TWO: FROM BEAULSOLEIL TO THE MOON | IT’S FUN TO LOSE AND TO PRETEND.

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Lamar White, Jr.
Lamar writes about the people, the politics, and the magic of Louisiana. He is the founder and publisher of the Bayou Brief and a contributing writer for the Daily Beast. Lamar is best known for his investigative reporting on public corruption, racism, and civil rights. He has appeared as a guest on CNN, MSNBC, and the BBC, and he's been the subject of profiles in The Washington Post, The Advocate, and Huffington Post. Before launching the Bayou Brief, he published CenLamar, a popular blog that initially covered the drama of City Hall in his hometown of Alexandria. Lamar is a graduate of Rice University in Houston and the Dedman School of Law at Southern Methodist University in Dallas. Today he lives in New Orleans and is currently writing a book about the life of reputed New Orleans Mafia boss Carlos Marcello. Support Lamar's work on Patreon.