Today, the Louisiana Supreme Court issued documents related to their 5:2 decision to not hear arguments on whether or not LCG’s use of an ordinance is an illegal method to amend their home rule charter. That question, by the way, was never answered by the courts. Instead, they courts merely said, “the plaintiffs failed to carry their burden of proving by clear and convincing evidence that the ordinance was an unconstitutional amendment to the Charter.”
The majority of justices did not release any reason for denying the appeal. However, in a fiery rebuke, Louisiana Supreme Court Justice, Jimmy Genovese, wrote, “There was no vote here to amend the Charter, but an ordinance to circumvent suffrage.” He continued, “It is indeed a slippery slope when an ordinance is allowed to quash the vote of the people.”
Another shocking item worth mentioning is the offense by LCG was so incredibly egregious that it should be thrown out without even the need to hear arguments! Their actions being so obviously unconstitutional, Justice Genovese would simply reverse their erroneous ruling without a hearing. His full opinion follows:
GENOVESE, J., would grant and assigns the following reasons therefor.
After twenty-two years of existence and operation (1996-2018), the Lafayette City-Parish Consolidated Government, by a vote of 53% to 47%, approved an amendment to its Home Rule Charter (the “Charter”), thereby abolishing the Lafayette City-Parish Council (the “Council”) and replacing it with a Lafayette City Council and a Lafayette Parish Council. It is undisputed that there were errors in the district descriptions included in the amended Charter wherein some portions of an existing precinct were inadvertently omitted, which disenfranchised 330 voters, while some voters were included in more than one district and would be able to vote twice. The Council felt it could fix this morass by ordinance in lieu of a vote.
The lower courts opined that this quagmire was only a “clerical error,” a mere violation of a ministerial duty, and that there was a reasonable relationship between the ordinance and the “public good,” which upheld the intent of the drafters and the people. What about the “elephant in the room” in this scenario? What about the right to vote, which is a fundamental cornerstone of our country and this state’s democracy? There were 330 voters disenfranchised as a result of this error, and now, some voters can vote twice. What about the jurisprudential concept and legal requirement of “one man, one vote”?
Here, the Council attempted to implement a shortcut by circumventing voting rights with an ordinance. The lower courts opined that the plaintiffs failed to carry their burden of proving by clear and convincing evidence that the ordinance was an unconstitutional amendment to the Charter. I totally disagree. What more proof of unconstitutionality is needed than 330 voters being disenfranchised, certain persons being allowed to vote twice, and one’s fundamental and constitutional right of suffrage being compromised and negated? This is no clerical error. This is an impingement on suffrage and patently unconstitutional on both the state and federal level.
I fully agree with the dissenting judge that a home rule charter (such as the case herein) is the supreme law of home rule charter jurisdiction and clearly can only be amended in accordance with La.Const. art. 6, §5 (C) which states: “A home rule charter shall be adopted, amended, or repealed when approved by a majority of the electors voting thereon at an election held for that purpose.” How much clearer can it be? Our state constitution requires a vote to amend the Charter. There was no vote here to amend the Charter, but an ordinance to circumvent suffrage. If it takes a vote to make it, it takes a vote to break it. It is indeed a slippery slope when an ordinance is allowed to quash the vote of the people.
I would grant this writ, reverse the lower courts, and rule this ordinance unconstitutional.
The similarly fiery, dissenting opinion from Judge Saunders of the 3rd circuit, which Genovese references, says in part, “The Amended Charter, therefore, as a document of the will of the people, cannot be amended without the approval of a majority of the electors voting thereon at an election held for that purpose.” He concludes, “I find the ordinance adopted by the Lafayette City-Parish Council must yield to the provisions of the Amended Charter as proposed by Ordinance 0-121-2018 and adopted by a majority of the voters. I would, therefore, reverse the judgment of the trial court.”
It may be worth noting that the Trial Court which Saunders is referring to is the 15th Judicial District Court here in Lafayette. The judge who he would have overruled is John Trahan, the brother of Pat Trahan, a Fix The Charter donor (page 15 here, and page 7 here) and Carlee for Lafayette host committee donor (a $2,500 contribution listed here).
Here’s the opinion in its entirety:
SAUNDERS, JUDGE, dissenting.
This case arises out of an amendment to the Lafayette City-Parish Consolidated Government Home Rule Charter (Amended Charter), ratified and promulgated in December 2018, that contained deficiencies in certain city and parish council district descriptions. At issue herein is the constitutionality of an ordinance adopted by the Lafayette City-Parish Council to cure these deficiencies. The majority finds the ordinance is a valid exercise of the council’s reapportionment power. For the following reasons, I respectfully disagree.
“Just as the Constitution is the supreme law of the state, home rule charters are the supreme law of home rule charter jurisdictions, subordinate only to the constitution and constitutionally allowed legislation.” Montgomery v. St. Tammany Parish Gov’t by & through St. Tammany Parish Council, 17-1811, p. 7 (La. 6/27/18), _ So.3d _.1 As a document founded on the will of the people, a home rule charter can only be amended “when approved by a majority of the electors voting thereon at an election held for that purpose.” La.Const. art. 6, § 5(C). Once approved, an amendment becomes the prevailing law of the land, “to which all legislative acts and all ordinances, rules, and regulations of creatures of the legislature must yield.” Caddo-Shreveport Sales and Use Tax Comm’n v. Office
of Motor Vehicles Through Dep’t Of Pub. Safety and Corr. of the State, 97-2233, p. 6 (La. 4/14/98), 710 So.2d 776, 780.
So, now the citizens of Lafayette stand at a crossroads. The government is supposed to derive its just powers from the consent of the governed. When the elected officials choose a different path – replacing the vote of the people with a simple ordinance – will the people acquiesce? When their power reaches all the way to the Louisiana Supreme Court, who refused to discuss the matter, what are the people to do? Will they return to office these individuals who are not only knowledgable about circumventing the law, but have now done so?