On Monday, Gov. Pat McCrory followed through on his promise to respond to the U.S. Justice Department’s claims that House Bill 2 violates federal anti-discrimination laws, just not in the way critics of the mega-controversial legislation might have hoped.
McCrory announced Monday morning that he had filed suit asking federal courts to “clarify” federal law, days after the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) stepped in to demand that state leaders in the legislature and the university system either repeal House Bill 2 or announce that they would not comply with its anti-LGBTQ provisions.
As we’ve reported at Policy Watch, the bill could threaten billions in federal education funding for North Carolina’s public schools and universities.
In a press conference detailing the suit Monday, McCrory again told reporters that House Bill 2 should be blamed on the Charlotte leaders who enacted a transgender-friendly bathroom policy, not the state leaders, including himself, who passed the bill and signed it into law on March 23.
“This was not a North Carolina state agenda,” he said.
McCrory said the DOJ letter was asking state leaders to “set aside their constitutional duties” in enforcing the law.
McCrory’s office said Monday that it had requested the agency provide additional time to respond, but officials with the U.S. Department of Justice would not grant the request unless North Carolina agreed to “unrealistic terms.”
The governor elaborated during his press conference, saying the federal agency asked him to make a statement indicating he agreed with their interpretation of federal nondiscrimination laws, something he refused.
The suit names the United States, the DOJ, U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch and Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta as defendants in the case.
Lynch’s office was expected to announce its response during a news conference Monday afternoon.
Critics of House Bill 2, including officials with the ACLU of N.C. quickly responded Monday, claiming that McCrory’s administration had “doubled down” on House Bill 2 discrimination with its suit.
From a joint statement by the ACLU and Lambda Legal:
“While transgender people in North Carolina remain in the perilous position of being forced to avoid public restrooms or risk violation of state law, Governor McCrory has doubled down on discrimination against them. The federal government made clear that HB 2’s mandate of discrimination against transgender people violates federal civil rights laws but McCrory and other political leaders in the state have decided to risk federal funding to maintain that discrimination. Transgender people work for the state of North Carolina, attend school in North Carolina, and are a part of every community across the state. It is unconscionable that the government is placing a target on their backs to advance this discriminatory political agenda. Lawsuits are normally filed to stop discrimination—not to continue it.”
Meanwhile, during Monday’s press conference, McCrory called on federal representatives in Congress to pass laws offering “clarity” on anti-discrimination laws.
He also reasserted his claim that the DOJ’s actions would set a national precedent regarding bathroom use for transgender people.
“This is not just a North Carolina issue,” McCrory said. “This is now a national issue.”
McCrory did not take any questions following his press conference Monday, although his chief legal counsel, Bob Stephens, told reporters the governor’s office viewed the suit as their official response to the DOJ letter.
Stephens said the governor’s office does not view transgender individuals as a “protected class” under federal law.
“Until Congress changes that, that’s the law,” he added.
Stephens also argued to reporters Monday that the U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals’ decision last month to overturn a district court judge’s ruling in a fight over transgender bathroom use should not be considered a mandate on the issue, only a decision forcing district courts to reconsider the issue.
“Until that happens, it is not the law in federal court,” Stephens said. “Nor is it the law in North Carolina.”
More as it develops.