Repealing Unconstitutional Law

Mar 19, 2014
Originally published on March 19, 2014 4:45 pm

It might seem obvious…when the U.S. Supreme Court rules a state law “unconstitutional”, then the state repeals that law. Baton Rouge Senator Dan Claitor has been trying to get one of those old laws off the books for several years now, but prior attempts never made it past the first hurdle—the Senate Education Committee. This time his repeal bill, SB 70, has made it to the Senate floor, and it’s eligible for debate there as early as today.

In 1982, the state passed the “Balanced Treatment Act”, requiring public schools that taught evolution to give equal time to creation. The law was challenged in the Edwards v. Aguillard case, and in 1987, the U.S. Supreme Court struck the law down, saying it violated the separation of church and state.

The House Education Committee heard Claitor’s repeal bill last week, and it quickly became apparent that getting rid of the old unconstitutional law remains controversial.

Claitor asked to advance the bill, reporting it with “no action”, socommittee members didn’t have to take a public stance for or against it. Chairman Conrad Appel explained how that differs from the usual vote to report “favorably”.

“This committee takes no position on the bill, however it does move forward to the full Senate for additional debate,” Appel told the committee.

West Monroe Senator Mike Walsworth, who in the past has consistently voted against advancing similar bills, made his opinion on the maneuver known.

“I object,” Walsworth said, when the “no action” vote was called. That meant a roll call vote. With two committee members absent, senators Walsworth and Bodi White of Baton Rouge voted against advancing the bill, with senators Claitor and Eric LaFleur voting to move it forward. Chairman Appel broke the tie, making it a 3-2 vote for advancement.

The debate on the Senate floor could get heated, as the repeal bill combines hot-button topics of religion and politics, plus federal courts ruling against what state lawmakers have done.

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