Analysis: Louisiana Attorney General Wades Into Outside Legal Disputes

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — As he raises the profile of Louisiana's chief legal officer at home, Attorney General Jeff Landry also is asserting himself around the country, wading into legal issues in other states and in Washington.

In the last several months, Landry's office has promoted the attorney general leading an "11-state coalition against sanctuary cities;" challenging "Massachusetts' burdensome agriculture regulations;" joining "fights to end California's restrictive farming regulations;" calling on Congress "to back (the) constitutional right of self-defense;" and urging the U.S. Department of Justice to "evaluate Obama consent decrees."

Landry's legal briefs and letters in those cases often get little notice at home. But the Republican attorney general's decision to insert himself into the debates — and to publicly tout his involvement — demonstrate a deliberate effort to elevate attention for a statewide elected position that often has been overlooked in discussion of Louisiana's political scene.

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To explain his involvement in these outside issues, Landry regularly frames the work as an effort to protect states' constitutional rights, safeguard Louisiana's interests or reflect the views held by Louisiana residents.

"It is imperative that Attorneys General across the country work together to defend federalism," Landry said in one statement announcing his involvement in an action challenging egg regulations in another state.

A former congressman in the attorney general's office for two years, Landry is clearly getting noticed by his colleagues. He's the president-elect of the National Association of Attorneys General and will take over as president this summer, and he's on the executive committee of the Republican Attorneys General Association.

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In Louisiana, he's mainly received attention for his frequent sparring with Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards. The two statewide elected officials have clashed over finances, contracting plans, criminal justice laws, the governor's order aimed at protecting LGBT-rights in state government and, more broadly, their constitutional roles.

Landry has also traveled Louisiana promoting efforts to combat opioid abuse, and his office regularly sends out notifications of arrests for Medicaid fraud and internet crimes against children in the state.

But in December alone, Landry's office noted multiple involvements in issues elsewhere:

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—On Dec. 4, Landry announced he and 23 other state attorneys general sent a letter to congressional leaders, backing Republican-led legislation that would make it easier for gun owners to legally carry concealed weapons across state lines. The proposal, a top priority of the National Rifle Association, has received the backing of the U.S. House.

—On Dec. 14 and 21, Landry said he had joined attorneys general in at least a dozen other states in legal challenges filed with the U.S. Supreme Court objecting to California and Massachusetts laws involving egg regulations. The laws ban the sale of eggs and other food products from farm animals that are confined in overly restrictive cages. In their complaints, Louisiana and the other states claim the California and Massachusetts laws, which are backed by animal protection groups, attempt to impose regulatory standards that impact farmers in other states. Indiana is leading the lawsuit against the Massachusetts law, while Missouri is leading the challenge of California's law.

—On Dec. 27, Landry announced he and several other states' attorneys general have filed a brief calling on a federal appeals court in California to uphold President Donald Trump's effort to deny public safety grants to so-called sanctuary cities that limit cooperation with immigration authorities. Lawsuits have stalled enforcement of Trump's executive order.

When Landry's office tweeted about the immigration-related filing in California, state Rep. Ted James, a Baton Rouge Democrat, responded on Twitter. James questioned when Landry was going to make a decision about whether state criminal charges are warranted in the shooting death of Alton Sterling, a black man killed by a white Baton Rouge police officer — a suggestion that Louisiana's attorney general had issues to settle in his own state.

It's clear, however, that Landry's focus won't stay limited solely to Louisiana issues.

By Thursday, Louisiana's attorney general was praising U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions for ending an Obama-era policy that kept federal authorities from cracking down on legalized marijuana in states.

-By Melinda Deslatte, Associated Pres

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