North Carolina won’t lose billions in federal education money while the Department of Justice and state leaders spar over House Bill 2 in court, White House press secretary Josh Earnest said Thursday.
The department sent state leaders a letter last week saying that HB2 violates the Civil Rights Act and Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 – a finding that could jeopardize billions in federal education funding. Those laws ban employment discrimination and discrimination in education based on sex.
On Monday, Gov. Pat McCrory and legislative leaders filed lawsuits contesting the order. And Attorney General Loretta Lynch filed a lawsuit seeking an injunction to put House Bill 2 on hold until the matter is resolved in court.
“The administration will not take action to withhold funding while this enforcement process is playing out in the courts,” Earnest said Thursday during his daily press briefing.
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The lawsuits hinge on whether federal protections against gender discrimination include protections for gender identity. The Department of Justice argues that House Bill 2’s requirement that transgender people in schools and other government buildings use the bathroom that corresponds to their birth certificate is discriminatory.
“When it comes to fighting for justice and fairness, and fighting against discrimination, that’s something that the president is committed to,” Earnest said, referring to President Barack Obama’s opposition to HB2. “Some people in North Carolina right now have been feeling like the state government, at least, is not sufficiently committed to ensuring equal treatment under the law.”
About $800 million for public schools and $1.4 billion for universities are at stake for North Carolina.
Senate leader Phil Berger issued a statement saying that the Department of Justice can’t take away funding on its own. “Today the Obama administration admitted what we have said all along – that their threat to withhold funding and bully North Carolinians into accepting their radical argument that men have a ‘civil right’ to use women’s bathrooms and shower facilities would have to be settled in court,” Berger said.
But the Human Rights Campaign, which has lobbied against HB2, said North Carolina’s funding isn’t secure yet. “To be clear, nobody is saying these funds aren’t still at risk,” said JoDee Winterhof, HRC’s senior vice president of policy and political affairs. “As Attorney General Loretta Lynch clearly stated Monday, these funds are very much in jeopardy.”
McCrory spokesman Josh Ellis said that “as Gov. McCrory has said all along, his administration’s assertive action against Washington overreach will protect federal funding for schools and other services while allowing the courts resolve this issue.”