On Monday afternoon, U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch announced the Department of Justice’s intention to file a federal lawsuit in response to North Carolina’s refusal to adhere to federal demands concerning the state’s controversial House Bill 2, known as the “bathroom bill.” Attorney General Lynch’s action is a countersuit to the one filed earlier on Monday by Governor Pat McCrory and Public Safety Secretary Frank Perry. By proceeding with legal action, Attorney General Lynch is promising to pursue equality for the nation’s LGBT community.
— CNN (@CNN) May 9, 2016
The legal mess in which the attorney general is now embroiled first drew national attention on March 23, 2016, when the North Carolina legislature passed HB2. The bill, formally known as the Public Facilities Privacy and Security Act, was a response to an ordinance passed by the Charlotte City Council on Feb. 22, 2016. Charlotte’s ordinance, described in a report in The Charlotte Observer, was more than just a bathroom provision; the ordinance expanded legal protections for the members of the city’s LGBT community.
Strong opposition to Charlotte’s ordinance, and similar ordinances passed in other cities in North Carolina, was evident from the beginning, and it was that opposition that led the state’s General Assembly to draft the legislation that became HB2. According to an explanation of the bathroom bill published in The Charlotte Observer shortly after Governor McCrory signed it into law, HB2 prevents cities and counties from expanding protections guaranteed under state and federal law that nullify the ordinances passed in Charlotte and other cities.
The opposition to the Charlotte ordinance paled in comparison to the outrage over the passage of HB2 that erupted all across the country. In fact, the bathroom bill’s discriminatory nature got the attention not only of the public, but also of Attorney General Lynch and the federal government.
On May 4, 2016, the U.S. Department of Justice issued an ultimatum in the form of a letter written by the Assistant Attorney General of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, Vanita Gupta. In the letter, the Assistant Attorney General minced no words when she told North Carolina lawmakers the state had until Monday to assure the federal government it would “not comply with or implement HB2.”
— reported.ly (@reportedly) May 9, 2016
Instead of issuing a statement confirming compliance, Governor McCrory teamed up with Secretary Perry and filed a lawsuit against the Department of Justice, in which they claim the federal government’s view of HB2 is the result of a “radical reinterpretation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.” To further complicate matters, two other North Carolina legislators have filed separate suits against the federal government.
It appears that the combination of North Carolina’s failure to comply with Justice Department demands and the lawsuits hit a nerve in Washington. When Attorney General Loretta Lynch spoke on the matter yesterday, she followed Assistant Attorney General Gupta’s lead by clearly expressing her feelings on the matter.
“The bill…placed North Carolina in direct opposition to federal laws prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sex and gender identity. More to the point, they created state-sponsored discrimination against transgender individuals, who simply seek to engage in the most private of functions in a place of safety and security – a right taken for granted by most of us.”
Attorney General Lynch went on to state that HB2 “violates federal civil rights laws,” which is the basis for the Justice Department’s lawsuit. During her speech, transcribed in a Time article published yesterday, the Attorney General named the defendants of the suit as the state of North Carolina, the Department of Public Safety, the University of North Carolina, and Governor McCrory, and she went on to threaten cuts to federal funding.
After announcing the lawsuit and the reasons for the Justice Department’s action, Attorney General Lynch appealed to the nation’s sensibilities. In her closing remarks, the Attorney General compared HB2 to Jim Crow-era legislation and the bill’s purpose to the “fierce and widespread resistance to Brown v. Board of Education.”
It is important to recognize that for Attorney General Loretta Lynch, an African-American born in North Carolina in 1959, discrimination is intolerable. Although the Brown v. Board of Education ruling occurred five years before her birth, North Carolina schools were not fully integrated until the early 1970s. Attorney General Lynch knows firsthand how recalcitrant the state’s lawmakers have been in the past, and she has seen the discrimination that has resulted from their previous refusals to cooperate, which she touched on lightly during her remarks.
“It was not so very long ago that states, including North Carolina, had signs above restrooms, water fountains and on public accommodations keeping people out based upon a distinction without a difference. We have moved beyond those dark days, but not without pain and suffering and an ongoing fight to keep moving forward.”
As the situation continues to unfold, members of the LGBT community will be looking to Attorney General Lynch to deliver on the promise of equality she made on behalf of the Obama Administration and the Department of Justice.
Thank you, Attorney General Loretta Lynch! pic.twitter.com/ArGmNMF2uW
— Forum for Equality (@FFELouisiana) May 10, 2016
[Photo by Evan Vucci/AP Images]