How Louisiana’s new laws push the boundaries of the culture wars

During his first six months in office, Gov. Jeff Landry has championed a broad conservative agenda that is changing Louisiana’s cultural landscape, from abortion rights to criminal justice to education.

That culminated this week with the signing of the nation’s first law requiring the Ten Commandments to be displayed in every public school classroom across the state.

“If you want to respect the rule of law, you have to start with the original legislator, who was Moses,” Landry, a Republican, said at a bill signing ceremony Wednesday in Lafayette.

Such a demonstration, which has drawn criticism among Democratic lawmakers and is already raising the threat of legal challenges from civil liberties groups over its constitutionality, would have been unlikely in Louisiana before, even when Republican Bobby Jindal held governorship for the last time eight years ago. There is.

But now the state is moving to the forefront of a culturally conservative wave typically associated with states like Florida and Texas, said Pearson Cross, a political science professor at the University of Louisiana at Monroe.

Landry “sees this cultural struggle. He’s this culture warrior,” Cross said. “He’s comfortable in this area and he thinks that being attacked or having to defend himself on these particular issues is a good thing. It demonstrates his good faith because he’s taking on the woke left.”

Presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, who supported Landry’s election campaign last year, wrote on his social media platform Friday that the entire country should follow Louisiana’s lead in allowing the ten commandments in public schools.

What allowed Landry’s agenda to advance came after a crucial shift in statewide politics in early 2023, political observers say, when a Democratic lawmaker from northeast Louisiana changed his party affiliation to Republican, giving the GOP a supermajority in the House. Republicans already had one in the Senate, and with the election of Landry, a former attorney general and congressman, as governor last fall, it solidified the party’s control of the executive branch and both houses of the Senate. Legislative Assembly with a veto-proof majority.

“It’s a singular moment in Louisiana politics when a very conservative Republican has been elected governor and has supermajority support in both the House and Senate,” Cross said. “For the last eight years, we’ve had a Democratic governor, and now there’s a huge appetite for some of these conservative changes that couldn’t have been passed before.”

Landry succeeded the Democratic governor. John Bel Edwards, who was term limited after winning in 2015 and 2019.

During his campaign, Landry expressed support for the state’s near-total ban on abortion and pledged to crack down on crime with tougher laws. In his first weeks in office, he called a special legislative session focused on overhauling criminal justice.

Among the controversial bills he signed into law: allowing the state to use nitrogen gas as a form of capital punishment; repeal a law to “raise the age” to now treat all 17-year-olds accused of crimes as adults; Essentially eliminate parole with a few exceptions; and allowing residents aged 18 and older to carry concealed handguns without a permit, a law that takes effect next month.

Another bill signed by Landry this week will allow judges to order certain sex offenders who commit crimes against children to undergo surgical castration — a first in any state in the country. The law takes effect in August. Other states, including Louisiana, legalize chemical castration for certain sex crimes.

The bill was proposed by a Democrat, but it was overwhelmingly opposed by Democrats and supported by Republicans.

And in another measure that continues to place Louisiana in a unique position, Landry signed a measure last month that places two drugs used to induce abortions — mifepristone and misoprostol — on the state’s list of controlled dangerous substances. State.

The law makes possession of drugs without a valid prescription or order from a medical professional punishable by up to five years in prison. Although pregnant women who obtain the drugs for their own consumption are not subject to prosecution under the legislation, medical professionals have criticized the law, saying the drugs have uses outside of abortion care. , including to facilitate labor and delivery, treat miscarriages and prevent gastrointestinal ulcers.

Landry said in a statement that the law “is simply common sense” and “protects women across Louisiana.”

But legal experts say criminalizing the actions through new means does not guarantee deterrence and will not reduce the prison population in Louisiana, which has one of the highest incarceration rates in the country and disproportionately affects Black people, according to the Vera Institute of Justice.

“The special session on crime was intended to punish, not to prevent crime from happening,” said William Snowden, an assistant professor at Loyola University New Orleans School of Law. “Governor Landry is trying to use old keys to open new doors, even though he has examples of how to best advance public safety in our state.”

Social and cultural issues are not the only ones to cause concern.

Steven Procopio, president of the nonpartisan Public Affairs Research Council of Louisiana, which advocates for fiscal responsibility and government transparency, said groups like his were concerned after a bill was proposed that would limit access to public records of the governor’s office.

But the bill was withdrawn last month by the Republican senator who authorized it over concerns about opening the government.

Procopio said the public outcry helped turn the tide, indicating how much participants can be influenced.

“People were really upset about some large-scale attempts to undermine public records,” he said.

Procopio said that while other issues, including Landry’s control of the State Board of Ethics, remain concerning, the governor’s attempt to revise the state constitution can be a positive. Still, he hopes Louisianans remain invested in what’s happening with their government.

“For people to be able to express what they like or don’t like, they need to know what’s going on. But if things are done in secret, democracy starts to collapse,” Procopio said. “These changes to ethics or public records are actually nonpartisan policies. If you can’t follow them, you won’t be able to successfully lobby your own government.”

Leave a Comment