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BREAKING: U.S. Department of Justice files suit against North Carolina over House Bill 2

U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch

U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch

Calling House Bill 2 “state-sponsored discrimination against transgender individuals,” U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch told reporters Monday afternoon that her office would be filing suit against North Carolina over its controversial legislation.

Lynch’s announcement came just hours after Gov. Pat McCrory announced the state had filed its own suit against the federal government over H.B. 2, calling for “clarity” on federal anti-discrimination laws from Congress. Officials in the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) have said they believe the legislation flouts multiple federal laws governing discrimination on the basis of sex and gender identity.

The attorney general said federal officials will be seeking a court order overturning the law as “discriminatory.” And while Lynch’s office indicated that it is not yet moving to cut federal funding for the state’s public schools and university programs as a result of the law, she did not rule it out Monday.

As we have reported at Policy Watch, the law could eventually imperil billions in federal funding for North Carolina. Pressed by reporters, Lynch declined to offer a date on when the legal impasse could threaten federal cash.

“This is about the dignity and respect that we accord our fellow citizens and the laws that we as a country have enacted to protect them,” Lynch said.

Lynch, a North Carolina native, said her office was engaged in negotiations with McCrory’s office over the law in recent days, but the announcement Monday morning that the governor would file suit against the federal government forced her hand.

She compared House Bill 2 to Jim Crow laws enacted by state and local governments to force racial segregation, as well as intense reactions to the U.S. Supreme Court’s desegregation decision in Brown v. Board of Education and court decisions over same-sex marriage.

“Let us instead learn from our history and learn from the repeated mistakes of our past,” Lynch said. “State sanctioned discrimination never looks good and never works in hindsight.”

At one point Monday, Lynch also spoke directly to North Carolina’s transgender community.

“No matter how isolated, no matter how afraid, and no matter how alone you may feel today, the Department of Justice and indeed the Obama administration want you to know that we see you,” Lynch said. “We stand with you and we will do everything we can to protect you going forward. And please know history is on your side.”

Additionally, Lynch pushed back against GOP claims that the state was being “bullied” by the DOJ.

“The people who feel bullied are the transgender individuals who live in the state of North Carolina,” she said.

Lynch added that the DOJ suit will be filed against the state, McCrory, the N.C. Department of Public Safety and the UNC system. UNC’s Board of Governors is expected to consider their response to the controversy this week.

Meanwhile, Vanita Gupta, head of the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division, reaffirmed Lynch’s comments Monday, calling House Bill 2 “sex discrimination, plain and simple.”

“H.B. 2 threatens the values that define us as a people,” said Gupta. “These values say to all people that you can be who you are.”

More on this as it develops.

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