Gov. Pat McCrory announced Thursday that his office and four outside attorneys would represent North Carolina in the federal government’s challenge of House Bill 2, hours after making a political issue of a court document filed in the case by his Democratic challenger.
An exchange of political volleys Thursday started when the Republican governor portrayed Attorney General Roy Cooper – who has said he would not defend the law – as reversing himself by responding to the complaint by the Department of Justice.
Cooper’s office had filed the response on Friday, with a deadline to respond looming and no other private attorneys representing North Carolina at the time – raising the possibility that the state could have been left unrepresented or had a judgment entered against it for lack of response. The filing asked for an extension of the deadline.
On Thursday, Cooper’s campaign called McCrory’s criticism misleading, reiterating Cooper’s opposition to the law and that he wouldn’t defend it.
McCrory’s campaign then called on Cooper to resign as attorney general “for gross incompetence.”
U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch and the federal Department of Justice brought the lawsuit last month, naming as defendants the state, McCrory, the state Department of Public Safety and the UNC system and its board of governors.
Bob Stephens, the governor’s counsel, said Thursday afternoon that when he saw the notices of appearances filed by Cooper’s office, he “became very concerned about it.” Stephens likened it to seeing a lawyer entering a case he wanted to lose.
“He’s already said he’s not going to defend the bill,” Stephens said, adding that Cooper’s office could have called the governor’s office and “we would have told them we planned to represent the state.”
In a statement released Thursday after the governor’s office called the attorney general’s action an attempt to “undermine the state’s position,” Cooper’s spokeswoman said his office “has informed counsel for the Governor that this office gives him permission to represent the state.” A spokeswoman added that his office had planned to actively seek outside counsel to represent the state if the judge granted the extension to respond as happened late Thursday.
“This is just more misinformation from Governor McCrory on the truth about HB2,” campaign spokesman Ford Porter said in an email. “The Attorney General has been consistent that he will not defend this bad law. The Attorney General’s Office’s court filing just asked for an extension of time for the state to answer. Attorney General Cooper continues to stand against this discriminatory law that is driving jobs and people away from our state.”
House Bill 2, passed in March by the legislature and signed by McCrory, blocked local anti-discrimination laws protecting LGBT people. The law also required people in government facilities to use bathrooms and locker rooms corresponding with the gender on their birth certificates, rather than their gender identity.
The court filing from the governor’s office mirrors many of the arguments made in its own, separate lawsuit against the federal government, accusing the executive branch of overreach and suggesting that Congress should decide whether transgender people are a protected class.