North Carolina and the Justice Department File Dueling Lawsuits over Transgender Bathroom Bill

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Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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UPDATED: May 16, 2016

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The political and social firestorm created by North Carolina’s controversial transgender bathroom law has found its way into the courtroom with multiple lawsuits and motions filed in the past week. Officials from North Carolina and the Justice Department filed dueling lawsuits against each other regarding the validity of the law, and a transgender rights group joined the legal fray this week with a motion requesting the law be blocked from enforcement while it is being challenged in federal court.  North Carolina’s transgender bathroom law is the latest LGBT issue disputed in federal court, and the new lawsuits likely represent the first step in a bitter legal fight between state autonomy and civil rights.

North Carolina Transgender Bathroom Law Creates Controversy

Earlier this year North Carolina finalized and passed a piece of legislation which bans transgender individuals from using bathrooms which do not match the gender listed on their birth certificate. North Carolina’s HB2, known as the “bathroom bill,” was passed as a direct response to a Charlotte city ordinance which expanded rights and protections for the LGBT community by, among other things, allowing transgender individuals to use public restrooms according to the gender they identify with.  Led by social Conservatives, the North Carolina General Assembly drafted and passed HB2 which not only requires transgender individuals to use the restroom matching the gender on their birth certificate, but also nullifies all city and local ordinances across the state which expand anti-discrimination protections to LGBT individuals.

According to HB2, the General Assembly has the only legal authority to regulate discrimination in the workplace or in public accommodations, and any city ordinance with expands upon state anti-discrimination provisions is illegal.  HB2 establishes that sexual orientation will not receive anti-discrimination protection in North Carolina, and also enacts strict rules that an aggrieved party alleging any type of discrimination must follow in order to succeed in a legal challenge.  While the focal point of the law is the right for transgender individuals to use the bathroom they identify with, the broad prohibition on city ordinances expanding LGBT civil rights make the polarizing law the battleground on which the fight over transgender rights will escalate. 

North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory (R) has undertaking a public campaign to defend the law since its passage, arguing that the thrust of the law is designed to protect privacy in school and public bathrooms. McCrory has further argued that North Carolina has the right to enforce school and public restroom usage and define which groups are protected from discrimination.  Opponents to the legislation have countered that the law is a blatant violation of civil rights, and last week the Department of Justice got involved by filing a federal lawsuit against North Carolina alleging violations of civil rights.

North Carolina and the Department of Justice File Dueling Lawsuits over “Bathroom Bill”

Last week officials representing North Carolina and attorneys for the Department of Justice announced dueling lawsuits over HB2.  The complaints were filed within hours of each other, and focused on the key question of whether or not the state’s transgender bathroom bill is unlawful discrimination and a violation of civil rights.  North Carolina officials, who received a letter from the Justice Department two weeks ago which demanded the law be repealed, accused the government of “baseless and blatant overreach,” and maintained that the law treats everyone in the state equally.  Gov. McCrory and other leading Republicans in the state argue that the DOJ is imposing “novel and unforeseen” interpretations of civil rights law in its condemnation of HB2, stating that the Obama administration is unfairly intimidating the state in an effort to “deny women their right to basic safety and privacy” while in a bathroom.

The DOJ responded by stating HB2 is a clear effort to discriminate against the LGBT community, and transgender citizens in particular, by forbidding them access to bathrooms and by refusing cities the opportunity to expand anti-discrimination legislation.  Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch held a press conference announcing the DOJ lawsuit and said, “This action … 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.”  Lynch, and other opponents of the bill, argue that North Carolina’s actions are discriminatory and allege in the DOJ lawsuit that the state has violated civil rights laws with an unconstitutional statute.

ACLU Seeks Injunction against North Carolina Transgender Law

This week, the ACLU joined the fray with a motion in federal court to cease enforcement of North Carolina’s HB2 until the constitutionality of the legislation is settled.  According to the ACLU, the injunction will protect transgender people from harm caused by HB2 and is a necessary step while the debate over the law continues.  US District Judge Thomas Schroeder, a Bush appointee, has been assigned the case and rule on the motion in the coming days. 

Beyond the competing lawsuits, North Carolina faces pressure from President Barack Obama, who recently released a statement to US public schools that transgender students must be allowed to use the bathroom of their choice, and the business community.  The state has already experienced significant loss of economic opportunity when PayPal and Deutsche Bank halted planned expansions due to the legislation, and could lose more if the National Basketball Association (NBA) makes good on its threat to relocate its annual All-Star Game from Charlotte if the bill is not repealed.

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