North Carolina Attorney General Will Not Defend Anti-LGBT Law In Court

Image courtesy of Ken Fager

A week after North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory signed into law a piece of legislation that overrides and prevents local governments from establishing anti-discrimination rules against gay and transgender people, the state’s Attorney General Roy Cooper has called the law a “national embarrassment” that he won’t defend in court.

McCrory signed HB2 [PDF] also dubbed the “Public Facilities Privacy & Security Act,” on March 23 at the end of a rushed meeting of state legislators in apparent response to a new Charlotte city ordinance that would have allowed transgender people to use bathrooms of the gender with which they identify.

The governor and other supporters of the bill have publicly presented the legislation as a simple measure to prevent gender confusion with regard to the use of restrooms and locker rooms.

However, the language of HB2 makes it clear that the bill provisions “supersede and preempt any ordinance, regulation, resolution, or policy adopted or imposed by a unit of local government or other political subdivision of the State,” meaning that it apparently guts any pending or current local rules prohibiting discrimination against the LGBT community.

In addition to Charlotte’s trans-friendly bathroom ordinance, cities like Raleigh and Carrboro, have banned municipal contractors from discriminating based on sexual orientation or gender identity. HB2, which goes into effect on April 1, would seem to override those local rules — taking away city governments’ ability to expand on state anti-discrimination laws.

Earlier this week, the ACLU and others sued McCrory and the Board of Governors for the University of North Carolina system, alleging that HB2 “violates the most basic guarantees of equal treatment and the U.S. Constitution.”

“In a process rife with procedural irregularities, the legislature introduced and passed H.B. 2 in a matter of hours, and the governor signed the bill into law that same day,” reads the complaint [PDF] filed in federal court. “Lawmakers made no attempt to cloak their actions in a veneer of neutrality, instead openly and virulently attacking transgender people, who were falsely portrayed as predatory and dangerous to others.”

The lawsuit says that — beyond the law’s stated purpose of clarifying which bathrooms transgender people should use — HB2 “wreaks far greater damage by also prohibiting local governments in North Carolina from enacting express anti-discrimination protections based on sexual orientation and gender identity.”

In response to the lawsuit, state attorney general Cooper — who is, perhaps not coincidentally, making a run for the governor’s office — said this morning that neither he nor his office would defend HB2 in court.

Since the bill passed, a number of companies have expressed concerns about doing business with or in the state. Cooper contends that if HB2 is enforced, it “will set North Carolina’s economy back if we don’t repeal it.”

Cooper explained that his decision is not just about disagreeing with the core tenets of HB2. There is also a conflict between his own agency’s anti-discrimination policies and the new statewide standard put in place by HB2. Since he has to defend the state DOJ’s policy against this new law, he can’t simultaneously represent the state in protecting the statute.

In his first public defense of the new law, McCrory maintained his position that HB2 did nothing to change existing laws throughout the state.

“We have not taken away any rights that have currently existed in any city in North Carolina, from Raleigh to Durham to Chapel Hill to Charlotte,” said the governor. “Every city and every corporation have the exact same nondiscrimination policy this week as they had two weeks ago.”

Georgia lawmakers recently tried to pass legislation that was similarly criticized by businesses and human rights groups for allowing discrimination against the LGBT community. Yesterday, Georgia Governor Nathan Deal vetoed the bill, which would have exempted faith-based groups from choosing to not hire or transact business with people whose lifestyles they find objectionable.

NC attorney general refuses to defend state from HB2 legal challenge [Charlotte Observer]

McCrory blames ‘inaccurate’ news stories for backlash against NC LGBT law [Charlotte Observer]

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