North Carolina and the U.S. Justice Department sued each other today amid escalating tension over a controversial law that critics have called "anti-LGBT.”
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North Carolina first filed a lawsuit today against the Department of Justice in an effort to push back against a warning that House Bill 2 violates the Civil Rights Act. The law bans people from using bathrooms that don't match the sex indicated on their birth certificate.
The Justice Department then filed its own saying "transgender individuals seeking access to covered facilities have suffered and continue to suffer injury, including, without limitation, emotional harm, mental anguish, distress, humiliation, and indignity as a direct and proximate result of compliance with and implementation of HB2."
The DOJ lawsuit asks the court to "issue a preliminary and permanent injunction to prevent further violations of federal law," which would block North Carolina from enforcing the HB2 law.
The DOJ Friday sent a letter to the state informing the government that the state's HB2, also known as the "bathroom bill," violates the Civil Rights Act. The department gave the state until today to respond to the letter “by confirming that the State will not comply with or implement HB2.”
"This action is about a great deal more than just bathrooms,” Attorney General Loretta Lynch said during a news conference today. “This is about the dignity and respect we accord our fellow citizens and the laws that we, as a people and as a country, have enacted to protect them – indeed, to protect all of us.”
Lynch reiterated that her department retains the option of curtailing federal funding to the North Carolina Department of Public Safety and the University of North Carolina as this case proceeds.
Vanita Gupta, head of the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division, joined Lynch, saying, “I want to make one thing clear. Calling H.B. 2 a ‘bathroom bill’ trivializes what this is really about. H.B. 2 translates into discrimination in the real world. The complaint we filed today speaks to public employees who feel afraid and stigmatized on the job."
Gov. Pat McCrory, along with fellow plaintiff Frank Perry, secretary of the North Carolina Department of Public Safety, accused the DOJ of a "radical reinterpretation" of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act and wrote that the federal government position was "a baseless and blatant overreach," according to the state's declaratory judgment action filed today in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina.
"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 complaint states.
McCrory and Perry also argue that transgender status is not a protected class under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.
During a news briefing this afternoon, McCrory said he filed the suit to gain "clarity" on federal anti-discrimination laws.
"We believe a court, rather than a federal agency, should tell our state, our nation and employers throughout the nation, what the law requires," he said.
He also criticized the DOJ's tight deadline.
"This was a substantial request with very serious implications and the U.S. government gave us a mere three businesses days to respond," he said.
McCrory said the DOJ would only extend the deadline if he made a public statement agreeing with the government's interpretation with federal law.
The complaint makes no mention of the DOJ's interpretation of Title IX. The DOJ Friday also sent a letter to the University of North Carolina, declaring that the school system was in violation of Title IX of the Higher Education Act.
The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which includes North Carolina, ruled in April that a Virginia high school policy banning a transgender student from using the boys' restrooms was discriminatory.
The North Carolina law, which critics say is anti-LGBT because it discriminates against gay and transgender residents, has been the source of controversy since it was first introduced. But supporters argue the law defends religious liberty and protects girls in public restrooms.
HB2 was signed into law by Gov. McCrory in March, and directs all public schools, government agencies and public college campuses to require that multiple-occupancy bathrooms and changing facilities, such as locker rooms, be designated for use only by people based on their "biological sex" stated on their birth certificate. Transgender people can use the bathrooms and changing facilities that correspond to their gender identity only if they get the biological sex on their birth certificate changed.
The law also declares that state law overrides all local ordinances concerning wages, employment and public accommodations.