North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory has sued the U.S. government and the Justice Department, asking federal courts to clarify a controversial new state law that limits transgender access to bathrooms.
The Justice Department in turn filed its own lawsuit against the state, saying the law restricting use of public restrooms by transgender people constitutes a pattern of discrimination on the basis of sex and gender identity.
"We see you, we stand with you and we will do everything to protect you," Attorney General Loretta Lynch said Monday afternoon.
"It was not so very long ago that states, including North Carolina, had other signs above restrooms, water fountains and other public accommodations keeping people out based on a distinction without a difference," she said.
The state's lawsuit came hours before a Monday deadline for North Carolina to respond to the federal government over the law barring protections for LGBT people in the state. Last week, the Justice Department notified McCrory that HB 2 violates Titles VII and IX of the U.S. Civil Rights Act, potentially jeopardizing billions of dollars in federal funding for public schools, universities, and other state functions.
"We asked for an additional two weeks, but they refused unless I agreed to the interpretation of federal law," McCrory told reporters at a news conference Monday afternoon. "I could not agree to that because I do not agree with that interpretation of the federal law."
"That is why this morning I have asked a federal court to clarify what the law actually is," he said.
Lynch said her department was in the process of considering the Governor’s requested extension for responding to the DOJ’s initial warning. But, Lynch said, "instead of replying to our offer or providing a certification, this morning the state of North Carolina and its governor chose to respond by suing the Department of Justice. As a result of their decisions we are now moving forward."
McCrory is fighting to keep House Bill 2, the law passed over the course of 12 hours in a special one-day session of the state legislature. The law was issued in response to an ordinance by the city of Charlotte that would have established protections for LGBT people. That ordinance would have allowed transgender people in Charlotte to use the bathroom corresponding to their gender identity.
The state bill nullified the Charlotte ordinance, and required all state facilities to go further and explicitly require people to use bathrooms matching the gender on their birth certificate.
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 lawsuit asks a judge to block Justice Department action that could threaten billions of dollars in federal money flowing to the state.
"The State is engaging in a pattern or practice of discrimination against transgender state employees," the DOJ said in the letter to McCrory.
HB2 has mobilized voters on both sides, the conservative base as well as the law's opponents. At least two corporations have decided not to expand here, well-known performers have canceled gigs, and even some elected officials have said this has damaged the state's economy and reputation.
McCrory said he hopes other states will join North Carolina in the lawsuit.
"This is not a North Carolina issue. It is now a national issue," McCrory said.