North Carolina on Monday filed a lawsuit against the federal government in response to a letter from the Justice Department that gave the state until the end of the day to scrap a controversial law regarding access to public bathrooms or risk losing hundreds of millions of dollars in federal funding.
Gov. Pat McCrory was given until Monday to notify the Justice Department that he would not enforce House Bill No. 2, which the federal government says limits protections for LGBT people. The measure has drawn a firestorm of protest from across the country.
The suit filed against the federal government, which lists McCrory and other state officials as plaintiffs, called the Justice Department’s position on the law “baseless and blatant overreach.”
North Carolina’s suit said that Title VII, which the Department of Justice said House Bill No. 2 violates, doesn’t recognize transgender status as a protected class. “If the United States desires a new protected class under Title VII, it must seek such action by the United States Congress,” the suit said.
McCrory had already indicated that he wasn’t going to back down, saying on Sunday: “It’s the federal government being a bully. It’s making law.”
McCrory has called the law a “common-sense” measure. Proponents often lean on the argument that a transgender person might use their gender identity to enter a bathroom and molest someone.
While McCrory agreed that the Justice Department could warn of consequences if North Carolina established separate bathrooms for white and black people, he said the agency goes too far in contending that transgender people enjoy similar civil rights protections. “We can definitely define the race of people. It’s very hard to define transgender or gender identity,” McCrory said.
House Speaker Tim Moore said, “That deadline will come and go. We don’t ever want to lose any money, but we’re not going to get bullied by the Obama administration to take action prior to Monday’s date. That’s not how this works.”
McCrory said he had made a request for more time, beyond the 5 p.m. deadline, to respond to the federal government, but that was denied. The lawsuit was filed with the assistance of private law firms — not Attorney General Roy Cooper, who is running to replace McCrory and has said he does not support the bathroom law.
McCrory said in a statement that he filed the lawsuit “to ensure that North Carolina continues to receive federal funding until the courts resolve this issue.”
“The Obama administration is bypassing Congress by attempting to rewrite the law and set restroom policies for public and private employers across the country, not just North Carolina,” the statement said. “They are now telling every government agency and every company that employs more than 15 people that men should be allowed to use a women’s locker room, restroom or shower facility.”
The governor and other state officials have been under pressure since the Justice Department warned last week that the law passed in March violates civil rights protections against sex discrimination on the job and in education for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.
In letters, federal civil rights enforcement attorneys focused on provisions requiring transgender people to use public restrooms that correspond to their biological sex.
But the law also bars local governments from prohibiting discrimination against LGBTQ people in public places. The state law was designed to block an anti-discrimination ordinance by the city council in Charlotte, which McCrory called “government overreach.”
If the federal government yanked funding, the 17-campus UNC system could lose more than $1.4 billion in public money.
UNC President Margaret Spellings has said that the university system doesn’t endorse the law but is obligated to follow it.
Another $800 million in federally backed loans for students who attend the public universities also would be at risk if it’s found that enforcing the law violates Title IX of the Civil Rights Act, which bars discrimination based on sex.
A federal lawsuit against the state is also possible, the Justice Department said.
The divisive new law has already led to a nationwide fallout, and multi-billion-dollar companies continue to withdraw investment from the state as some residents decamp to “friendlier” locations. Founders and chief executives of more than a hundred companies — including Apple, Twitter and Alphabet — urged McCrory to repeal the legislation, while high-profile entertainers like Bruce Springsteen and Pearl Jam have canceled appearances in North Carolina.
The state also faces lawsuits by individuals and various civil rights organizations, including the ACLU, over the law.
“The existence of trans people does not threaten the privacy of anyone else,” an ACLU staff attorney said last week. “Extending legal protections to transgender people, including when it comes to using restrooms and locker rooms, does not threaten the safety of anyone else. This has been proven time and time again despite the ongoing rhetoric to the contrary.”
SOURCE: NBC News / AP – PETE WILLIAMS, ELISHA FIELDSTADT