Despite McCrory's request, Cooper won't join Virginia transgender bathroom suit

Posted November 23, 2015 5:03 p.m. EST
Updated November 23, 2015 5:46 p.m. EST

Republican Gov. Pat McCrory and Democratic Attorney General Roy Cooper are running for governor in 2016.

— Attorney General Roy Cooper has rejected a call by Gov. Pat McCrory to side with a Virginia school district against a discrimination lawsuit by the American Civil Liberties Union that would allow a transgender high school student to use the men's bathroom.

In a press release over the weekend, the Republican governor said he asked Cooper, a possible Democratic challenger in 2016, to join South Carolina in a friend-of-the-court brief in G.G. vs. Gloucester County School Board supporting the local district, which in late 2014 adopted a policy requiring students to use either private unisex bathrooms or those limited to their "corresponding biological genders." The U.S. Department of Justice has thrown its own support behind the transgender student, Gavin Grimm, who was born female but identifies and lives as a male.

"This extreme position directly contradicts the express language of federal law and threatens local control of our schools,” McCrory said in his letter to Cooper, dated Nov. 21. "It also disregards the safety and privacy concerns of parents and students."

The case is now before the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which includes North Carolina. In its filing in support of Grimm and the ACLU, federal attorneys argued that the Virginia school board's policies violate Title IX discrimination laws.

McCrory said "this federal overreach is unacceptable and unnecessary" and said local districts are already equipped to protect the rights of parents and students and can meet the needs of students "struggling with their gender identity in a compassionate manner."

"A decision favoring the Obama administration in the Fourth Circuit would be binding precedent on North Carolina federal courts," McCrory wrote. "It would remove local districts' flexibility and force the federal government's extreme views on all our schools."

North Carolina Department of Justice spokeswoman Noelle Talley said Monday afternoon that senior staff in the agency told McCrory's legal counsel that the state would not be joining South Carolina in the brief. Talley did not provide the department's rationale.

But in a statement released through Cooper's campaign office via Twitter, spokesman Jamal Little evoked McCrory's campaign fundraising on statements about delaying the resettling of Syrian refugees in the U.S. – an issue on which both candidates largely agree – to criticize the incumbent governor's stance.

"Last week, Gov. McCrory was raising money off people fleeing terror but skipped out on an important security briefing. This week, he's found another group to politicize," Little said. "Adolescence is hard enough without being bullied by an elected official. Next week, who knows who'll be the target of a governor whose only path to re-election is dividing North Carolina."

Billy Constangy, a spokesperson for the McCrory campaign, responded Monday, saying the governor's first priority is public safety.

"He will fight the Obama administration's overreach on the issues of Syrian refugees, sanctuary cities and the federal overreach into our public schools," Constangy said. "Apparently Roy Cooper will not."