North Carolina and the Department of Justice (DOJ) are suing each other over the state's controversial anti-LGBT law, with the feds arguing that the measure illegally discriminates against transgender people and state officials accusing the Obama administration of overstepping its authority by attempting to intervene.
US Attorney General Loretta Lynch announced the federal lawsuit against the state at a press conference Monday afternoon. Lynch said that North Carolina's House Bill 2, which requires transgender people to use the bathroom that corresponds with their biological sex and denies them equal rights protection from discrimination, is intended only to "inflict further indignity on a population who has already suffered far more than their fair share." She called the measure "state-sponsored discrimination."
The DOJ had warned Governor Pat McCrory that the state would face consequences if he didn't use his powers to block the law from being implemented by the end of the day on Monday. Rather than comply with the request, McCrory announced on Monday morning that North Carolina had filed a lawsuit against the federal government. He called the attempt at federal intervention "baseless and blatant overreach."
The DOJ wasted no time in pushing back against North Carolina's law and McCrory himself, who is named as a defendant in the suit.
"This action is about a great deal more than bathrooms," Lynch said, using remarkably strong language to condemn the bill. "This is about dignity and respect we afford our citizens."
Lynch went on to compare North Carolina's ordinance to other historic civil rights discriminations, including Jim Crow laws and opposition to same-sex marriage. She said HB 2 is about "legislating identity and insisting that a person must pretend they are something they are not."
Lynch also noted that the DOJ could move to suspend hundreds of millions of dollars worth of federal funding if North Carolina goes through with implementing HB 2, although the feds do not have plans to cut funds right away. The government had previously threatened to pull funding from the state if the governor did not block the bill by 5pm on Monday.
North Carolina's legislature controversially passed the sweeping anti-LGBT measure during a special session earlier this year, and the governor swiftly signed it into law in March. The law excludes a person's sexual orientation from discrimination protection, nullifies anti-discrimination bills passed by local municipalities, sends discrimination claims to federal courts, and forces transgender students and adults who have not undergone sex-reassignment surgery to use the bathroom of their gender at birth.
The law has drawn criticism from around the country. Bruce Springsteen and Pearl Jam cancelled performances in the state, and dozens of large corporations spoke out against the measure, including Bank of America, Citigroup, General Electric, Monsanto, Hewlett-Packard, Google, Wells Fargo, Yahoo, and Microsoft. Other companies have said they plan to stop doing business in North Carolina altogether.
In a press conference on Monday afternoon, McCory accused the Obama administration of "trying to bypass US Congress by setting new laws" that legally require employers to allow transgender people to use the bathroom of their choice.
"I do not agree with [the Justice Department's] interpretation of federal law," McCory said, explaining North Carolina's lawsuit. "Ultimately, I think it's time for the US Congress to bring clarity to our national anti-discrimination provision under Title VII and Title IX."
McCory added that the issue of transgender bathroom access is no longer limited to North Carolina, saying it has become a national question over how the country's anti-discrimination laws are applied.
We— Pat McCrory (@PatMcCroryNC) May 9, 2016
A wide majority of Americans oppose laws that bar transgender people from using the bathroom of their choice, according to a recent CNN/ORC poll. Fully 75 percent of people surveyed said they support anti-discrimination protections for transgender people, and 39 percent said they strongly oppose laws like North Carolina's.
Proponents of the bill argue that it's a necessary response to an ordinance recently passed in the city of Charlotte that protects LGBT individuals from discrimination by businesses. Opponents of the law, which prohibited businesses from refusing services to an LGBT member of public, dubbed it the "bathroom ordinance" because of the restroom accommodations it extended to transgender people.
The Justice Department had previously determined that North Carolina's law violated the equal rights protection for transgender people guaranteed under the 14th Amendment and Title VII, which is the basis of the government's suit announced today. North Carolina's lawsuit, also filed on Monday, however, contends that transgender identity is not recognized as a protected class under Title VII and should not be subject to nondiscrimination protections.
"If the United States desires a new protected class under Title VII, it must seek such action by the United States Congress," North Carolina's lawsuit said.
During an appearance on Fox News Sunday, McCory dismissed the government's deadline saying, "It's the federal government being a bully. It's making law."
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