North Carolina Sues Federal Government Over Transgender Bathroom Law

May 9, 2016
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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

It's been a day of dueling lawsuits in North Carolina. This morning, the governor sued the U.S. Justice Department. Then the Fed struck back this afternoon with a lawsuit of their own against North Carolina. It's all about that controversial new state law on bathroom access. Republicans in the state say the federal government has overstepped its authority. We begin our coverage in Raleigh with statehouse reporter Jeff Tiberii of member station WUNC.

JEFF TIBERII, BYLINE: The Justice Department wrote Gov. Pat McCrory a letter last week telling him a new state law violates the Civil Rights Act and must be changed. The measure in question requires people to use the bathroom that corresponds to the sex listed on their birth certificate. Federal prosecutors say that discriminates against people who are transgender. They gave the governor until the end of today to respond.

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PAT MCCRORY: I do not agree with their interpretation of federal law. That is why this morning, I have asked a federal court to clarify what the law actually is.

TIBERII: McCrory spoke at the executive mansion, saying he expects the state legislature, businesses and potentially other states to join North Carolina in seeking this clarification. He has called the federal government a bully for going beyond its power.

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MCCRORY: This was a substantial request with very serious implications, and the U.S. government gave us a mere three business days to respond to this letter.

TIBERII: Reaction has been strong across the state. The Rev. William Barber is president of the North Carolina chapter of the NAACP. He says the state government has used its own power to get what it wants.

WILLIAM BARBER: This governor election has passed more legislation to stop - to bully local communities. They also are bullying people in North Carolina by saying you can't even file an employment discrimination case in state court.

TIBERII: The law that set off this national controversy was passed during a one-day special session in March. Both chambers of the legislature and the governor approved it in less than 12 hours. The state stepped in after the city of Charlotte passed an ordinance providing protections to people in the LGBT community.

It has ascended the governmental ladder, and the Justice Department got involved last Thursday. It says that the state law infringes on Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, dealing with employment discrimination, and Title IX, equality in education. Today's legal maneuvers address just Title VII. Any violations of the Civil Rights Act put billions of dollars in federal funding at risk for the state.

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BOB STEPHENS: We have specifically not violated Title VII...

TIBERII: Bob Stephens is the governor's general counsel.

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STEPHENS: ...Because right now, in spite of what this letter says to us, the class of people that the Justice Department are referring to are not a protected class under Title VII. And until Congress changes that, that's the law.

TIBERII: That's how the state of North Carolina views this. For NPR News, I'm Jeff Tiberii in Raleigh.

SIEGEL: And a quick note - WUNC's broadcast license is held by the University of North Carolina. Its newsroom is independent. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.