North Carolina Republican leaders in the General Assembly are refusing to back down from the controversial House Bill 2 after the U.S. Department of Justice told the state this week that it is in violation of federal anti-discrimination protections.
House Speaker Tim Moore said on Thursday the state will not be “bullied” into meeting a Monday deadline the DOJ set to change or stop enforcing the law, setting up a potential court battle between state and federal officials.
“We will take no action by Monday. That deadline will come and go,” Moore said. “We’re going to move at the speed that we’re going to move at to look at what our options are.”
After attending an education reform event in Chapel Hill, Gov. Pat McCrory told WUNC that he would have a response to the DOJ on Monday.
HB2 continues to be a distraction for McCrory, as he prepares for his re-election bid in the fall, and Republican legislators, who convened for their legislative session last week to shore-up the state’s bi-annual operating budget.
Moore and Senate Leader Phil Berger, also a Republican, met on Thursday afternoon with Charlotte Mayor Jennifer Roberts, a leading critic of the law who supported a city ordinance that protected transgender people from discrimination and motivated lawmakers to write HB2. Moore, Berger and Roberts declined to publicly elaborate on the details of their hour-long meeting.
“We had a productive discussion, and we're looking for solutions, and I look forward to further dialogue,” Roberts said.
In a letter to McCrory on Wednesday, Justice Department officials argue HB2 violates sections VII and IX of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The finding could push the federal government to withhold $4.8 billion in federal aid from the state, according to an analysis by the Williams Institute, a California-based research organization that focuses on sexual orientation and gender identity laws.
The letter says Justice Department officials may seek a court order to ensure compliance with the Civil Rights Act because the state is “engaging in a pattern or practice of discrimination against transgender state employees.”
Shortly after the letter was delivered, McCrory spent most of a question-and-answer session before the influential North Carolina Chamber business group defending the law and repudiating the department’s threat to sue.
“This is no longer a North Carolina issue,” McCrory said. The threat is “something we’ve never seen regarding Washington overreach in my lifetime, in the most private areas of our personal life.”
Berger similarly responded in a statement: “This is a gross overreach by the Obama Justice Department that deserves to be struck down in federal court.”
State leaders accused federal officials of potentially pursuing a suit against the law for political reasons.
White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said on Thursday afternoon that the decision to inform McCrory that North Carolina had violated federal laws was independent of any political interference, Politico reported.
“Those are decisions that are made entirely by attorneys at the Department of Justice,” Earnest said.