Justice Department sues to block HB2

Posted May 9, 2016
Updated May 13, 2016

The U.S. Justice Department on Monday sued to block North Carolina from enforcing the provisions of House Bill 2 that dictate what bathrooms transgender individuals can use.

"None of us can stand by when a state enters the business of legislating identity and insist that a person pretend to be something or someone that they are not or invents a problem that does not exist as a pretext for discrimination and harassment," U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch said during a Monday afternoon news conference, calling House Bill 2 "state-sponsored discrimination."

McCrory, lawmakers want courts to declare HB2 doesn't discriminate In addition to Gov. Pat McCrory and the state of North Carolina, the government's lawsuit targets the University of North Carolina system.

In announcing the suit, Lynch called on imagery from the civil rights era of the 1960s, recalling a time when whites and blacks were required by law to use separate bathrooms.

"This action is about a great deal more than bathrooms," Lynch said. "This is about the dignity and respect we accord to our fellow citizens."

As with a news conference Monday morning in which he announced his own lawsuit seeking to forestall federal action, McCrory accused the Obama administration of overstepping its authority.

"Governor McCrory is appropriately seeking legal certainty to a complex issue impacting employers and students throughout the country," spokesman Josh Ellis said in a statement. "In contrast, the attorney general is using divisive rhetoric to advance the Obama administration's strategy of making laws that bypass the constitutional authority of Congress and our courts."

Read the federal lawsuit against North Carolina

If federal courts do find House Bill 2 to be discriminatory, Lynch and her deputies could ask for federal funding to be withheld from the state. Billions of dollars flow from the federal government for education, law enforcement and other needs.

"We are deferring on requesting the curtailing of funding now, but we do retain that right," Lynch said.

House Speaker Tim Moore spoke with reporters before Lynch's announcement. Anticipating the federal lawsuit, Moore said that no effort to withdraw federal funds from the state would be instantaneous, and while he maintained that the state was in the right, Moore said that the courts would have the final say.

"Should a court rule that North Carolina is out of compliance, I don't think anyone is going to go off the cliff with this thing and put billions of dollars at risk," said Moore, R-Cleveland.

The UNC system, for example, received $1.4 billion in federal funds in fiscal year 2014-15. That revenue could be at risk if a federal judge decides North Carolina was willfully flouting federal law. In a letter to the Justice Department on Monday, UNC President Margaret Spellings said the 17-campus system was caught between complying with state law and obeying federal law.

"In these circumstances, the University is truly caught in the middle," Spellings said in a statement. "As the Attorney General alluded to in her press conference today, we have been in regular contact with the Department about ways to constructively resolve its inquiry into HB2 and the University’s compliance with federal civil rights laws. Even though the Justice Department has chosen to file an action in federal court, we intend to continue to engage in further discussions with them on this issue."

Senate Minority Leader Dan Blue said McCrory and the Republican leaders of the General Assembly "have backed themselves into a corner" with their defense of House Bill 2 and their defiance of the federal government.

"Republicans are essentially playing chicken with billions of dollars of education funding on the line," Blue, D-Wake, said in a statement. "This kind of destructive escalation is not a game – people’s livelihoods are on the line."

Lawmakers passed House Bill 2 in March in response to a Charlotte ordinance that would have required private and public entities to allow transgender individuals to use the bathroom of their choice. The state law goes much further by limiting state nondiscrimination policies and eliminating the right to sue in state court for employment discrimination.

Last week, the Justice Department gave the governor to the end of the day Monday to say whether he would enforce the law. McCrory asked for an extension of that timeline, a request Lynch said her department considered.

McCrory said earlier in the day that the federal government offered to hold off on its suit only if he admitted that the law was discriminatory, something he was unwilling to do.

Instead, McCrory filed his own lawsuit Monday morning, asking a federal court to declare North Carolina in compliance with the law. Later in the day, top lawmakers filed a similar, but broader lawsuit, asking the courts to exonerate North Carolina.

Vanita Gupta, who heads the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division, said federal law has long made clear that sex discrimination includes gender identity, a stance McCrory disagreed with in his court filing.

"There is nothing radical or even usual about the notion that the word 'sex' includes the concept of gender," Gupta said. "HB2 denies transgender people something that all non-transgender people enjoy and take for granted: access to restrooms consistent with their gender identity. That's sex discrimination, plain and simple."

House Bill 2 supporters argue that the Justice Department is bullying the state over a privacy issue, but Lynch said the only ones being bullied by the law are transgender people in North Carolina.

"There are any number of ways to accommodate privacy interests in a bathroom or in a changing area as long as they are equally available to all students and all employees. You cannot single out any one particular group to be treated differently," she said.

In its lawsuit, the Department of Justice asks the court to find that House Bill 2 violates federal laws against workplace discrimination as well as discrimination in educational settings. The department also says the law violates the Violence Against Women Act.

Addressing the people of North Carolina, Lynch said, "You have been told this law protects vulnerable populations from harm, but that just is not the case...This law provides no benefit to society, and all it does is harm innocent Americans."


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  • Melvin Denis May 10, 2016
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    That makes a lot of sense to me.

  • Xander Bogaerts May 10, 2016
    user avatar

    "None of us can stand by when a state enters the business of legislating identity and insist that a person pretend to be something or someone that they are not or invents a problem that does not exist as a pretext for discrimination and harassment," U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch said during a Monday afternoon news conference, calling House Bill 2 "state-sponsored discrimination."

  • Mark Cahall May 10, 2016
    user avatar

    Now that it's been revealed that
    Cooper the Traitor conspired to
    sabotage North Carolina's economy
    with the help of the SalesForce CEO

    and most likely also worked with
    the Democrat-led DoJ to sue us

    Cooper the Traitor should
    withdraw from the race.

    First he pushed to enable sexual predators,
    then he conspired to hurt North Carolina's economy

    and when those didn't work

    Cooper the Traitor enlisted DoJ's help to blackmail North Carolina by threatening the loss of money that helps to educate our children. .

  • Doug Smallen May 10, 2016
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    All up to presiding Judge, if it is a part of Civil Rights Act, I'm sure they will be no Bias from the Judge, snicker, snicker!

  • Xander Bogaerts May 10, 2016
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    You mean the lawsuit being represented by ADF (Alliance Defending Freedom)? The Alliance Defending Freedom wants to take America back to the 3rd century. Literally. On the website for its legal fellowship program, the organization explains that it “seeks to recover the robust Christendomic theology of the 3rd, 4th, and 5th centuries.”

    Yes, it will be interesting to watch ADF try and make life like it was hundreds of years ago.

  • Amy Whaley May 10, 2016
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    Wonder why there is no mention in this article of the lawsuit filed by parents in a Chicago suburb suing feds for forcing school to let transgender girls in the locker room. Apparently, the high school girls are very uncomfortable being forced to dress out for gym with a boy in the room. It will be interesting to see how this plays out.

  • Demute Sainte May 10, 2016
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    And yet there is no shortage of dressing room voyeurs, sexual harassment and assaults. Just like the so-called "gun" problem... is your solution to hand out bullet proof vest and ammo to kids. I mean... its going to happen anyway right?
    Move on....

  • Shandy Scott May 10, 2016
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    Hilarious that Lynch spends her time suing NC because we have a problem with a guy going into a women's bathroom. She has no time to sue San Francisco who does not obey a federal law and allows an illegal who was deported five times and returned to San Francisco and stated I kept coming back because I knew I could stay. Of course he goes on and murders an innocent young women with her father at her side.

  • Steve McToots May 10, 2016
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    And here is one you conservatives love to use

    "Why make a law when criminals won't follow it amy way?"

    That's the favorite line when it comes to gun regulation. So let's apply it to this huge problem of child predators dressing advice opposite sex to go into bathrooms to molest kids.

    Oh wait, there are no cases of such a thing (just republican men soliciting sex on bathrooms)

  • Susan Eaton May 10, 2016
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    My issue remains the inaccurate portrayal of this measure as having anything to do with safety. You want to say you support the bill itself or the conservative Republicans so go for it. Just say it and own it. But the continual inaccuracy that this law will help women and children by saving them from sexual predators has been shown to be untrue, full stop. And you continuing to push that message won't make it true. You want to help women and children -- then crusade against domestic violence, or go and talk to rape crisis centers and learn what will really help women and children. Because the real truth is that there is not and never has been anywhere that a female or a little girl is "safe". Not in her own home (where a majority of sexual predation occurs by family and friends), not in her church, and nowhere in public. We always have to be on the alert. This bill changes nothing in terms of womens' safety.