US attorney general blasts NC, files suit against HB2

Attorney General Loretta Lynch (CBS)

RALEIGH, N.C. — North Carolina and the federal government exchanged lawsuits Monday as the battle over House Bill 2 took on a national scope.

Attorney General Loretta Lynch said Monday afternoon that the Justice Department will sue North Carolina.

The lawsuit says North Carolina’s House Bill 2 violates Title VII and Title IX of the Civil Rights Law by denying transgender people access to bathrooms consistent with their gender identity.

Lynch, who is from Durham, said House Bill 2 “placed North Carolina in direct opposition to federal law.”

She said the state “created state-sponsored discrimination against transgender individuals.”

Lynch said the government would “retain the right to curtail federal funding.” Lynch said her office has been in contact with the University of North Carolina system, which is holding a special meeting Tuesday.

System president Margaret Spellings said late Monday that the system wants “full compliance with federal non-discrimination laws.” She said the system was “truly caught in the middle,” with House Bill 2 now the law of North Carolina.

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

Lynch said House Bill 2 addressed “a problem that does not exist as a pretext for harassment.”

“What this law does is inflict further indignity on a population that has already suffered far more than its fair share.  This law provides no benefit to society – all it does is harm innocent Americans.  she said.

The lawsuit was filed in the Middle District of North Carolina, a federal official said.

Earlier Monday, North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory’s administration sued the federal government  in a fight for a state law that requires transgender people to use the public restroom matching the sex on their birth certificate.

The lawsuit seeks to keep in place the law, which the U.S. Justice Department said last week violated the civil rights of transgender people against sex discrimination on the job and in education.

Web Extra: Read the full lawsuit filed by McCrory

“I do not agree with their interpretation of federal law. That is why this morning I have asked a federal court to clarify what the law actually is,” McCrory said at a news conference. He said he hopes other states will join North Carolina in court as it fights the Justice Department’s position that the Civil Rights Act requires that transgender people be allowed to access facilities matching their gender identities.

“This is not a North Carolina issue. It is now a national issue,” McCrory said.

Attorney General Lynch, addressing McCrory’s specific concerns, said, “Our lawsuit makes clear that federal law has been clear for some time now. The law is clear, the cases are clear. And the 4th Circuit made it clear only about two weeks ago.”

On Monday afternoon, General Assembly leaders Phil Berger of the Senate and Tim Moore of the House also said they have filed a lawsuit in the Eastern District of North Carolina, asking the court o uphold House Bill 2.

“It’s unacceptable for the Obama administration to try to intimidate North Carolina taxpayers into accepting their radical reinterpretation of a law meant to protect women from discrimination into a law that would actually deny women their right to basic safety and privacy,” they said in a statement. “What the Obama administration is arguing has never been written into law by Congress or settled in the courts, and that is why we are seeking clarity – to confirm we remain in compliance with federal law.”

Moore, the speaker of the House, had said last week he did not expect the state to respond by Monday’s federal deadline.

The University of North Carolina system is meeting Tuesday and is expected to address its response.

Attorney Roy Cooper, a Democrat running for governor, again called for McCrory to repeal House Bill 2.

“There has been a real and devastating impact on North Carolina’s economy and reputation,” Cooper said.

The Justice Department had set a Monday deadline for McCrory to report whether he would refuse to enforce the law that took effect in March. McCrory’s defiance could risk funding for the state’s university system and lead to a protracted legal battle. The law also limits state anti-discrimination protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people and blocks local governments from establishing their own.

The law has been criticized by gay rights groups, and entertainers including Bruce Springsteen and Pearl Jam have canceled shows. PayPal reversed plans to open a 400-employee operation center in Charlotte, and Deutsche Bank froze expansion plans near Raleigh. Nearly 200 corporate leaders from across the country, including Charlotte-based Bank of America, have urged the law’s repeal, arguing it’s bad for business because it makes recruiting talented employees more difficult.

Several other states have proposed similar laws in recent months limiting protections to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. On Monday, the American Civil Liberties Union of Mississippi sued that state over a law that will allow workers to cite their own religious objections to same-sex marriage to deny services to people.

Federal civil rights enforcement attorneys focused in their warning letters to North Carolina particularly on the bathroom provision. The letters threatening possible federal lawsuits were sent to McCrory, leaders of the 17-campus University of North Carolina system, and the state’s public safety agency.

McCrory’s lawsuit, filed in federal court in North Carolina, asks a judge to block Justice Department action that could threaten billions of dollars in federal money flowing to the state. The lawsuit called the law a “common sense privacy policy” and said the Justice Department’s position was a “baseless and blatant overreach.”

“This is an attempt to unilaterally rewrite long-established federal civil rights laws in a manner that is wholly inconsistent with the intent of Congress and disregards decades of statutory interpretation by the courts,” the lawsuit said.

McCrory said on “Fox News Sunday” he was not aware of any North Carolina cases of transgender people using their gender identity to access a restroom and molest someone. Other supporters of the law cite reports elsewhere of men entering women’s bathrooms — thanks to policies allowing transgender people to enter the restrooms aligned with their gender identity — to highlight the threat of sexual assault.

The state’s public university system was expected to issue a separate response Monday to the Justice Department warning letter it received. The university’s governing board scheduled a special meeting for Tuesday to receive a private “legal briefing” from its top staff attorney.

The UNC system risks losing more than $1.4 billion in federal funds if its observance of the law is found to violate federal sex discrimination protections in education and employment. Another $800 million in federally backed loans for students who attend the public universities also would be at risk.

The lawyers filing Monday’s lawsuit on behalf of McCrory and the public safety agency head appointed by the governor include McCrory’s top legal aide and Columbia, South Carolina-based lawyer Karl S. “Butch” Bowers Jr.

Bowers previously represented McCrory in a federal lawsuit alleging new Republican-backed voting law changes were intended to suppress minority voter turnout. North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper declined to defend that law in court and also has refused to defend the LGBT law. Cooper, a Democrat, is challenging the Republican McCrory’s re-election bid in November.

Reaction to the Department of Justice lawsuit

“We applaud the Justice Department for filing suit and joining us in saying that neither Governor McCrory nor North Carolina’s legislators can strip equality out of federal law. This law is a targeted and unprecedented attack on the LGBT community, particularly against transgender people.

“The Justice Department has reaffirmed its letter to Governor McCrory and what we put forth in our complaint when we filed our lawsuit in March. 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.”

_ American Civil Liberties Union, ACLU of North Carolina, and Lambda Legal 

Copyright 2016 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

 

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