State Politics

ACLU asks judge to suspend HB2 for ‘ongoing and serious harm’

The ACLU has sued Gov. Pat McCrory and other state officials over HB2. On Monday, it asked a judge to suspend the law until its suit is heard
The ACLU has sued Gov. Pat McCrory and other state officials over HB2. On Monday, it asked a judge to suspend the law until its suit is heard

Critics of House Bill 2 fired a new shot Monday in the escalating battle over North Carolina’s controversial bathroom law – asking a federal judge to block state enforcement of the measure until its constitutionality can be decided in court.

The ACLU of North Carolina has asked U.S. District Judge Thomas Schroeder of Winston-Salem to issue a preliminary injunction against the law, which requires transgender individuals to use restrooms in government buildings that match their biological sex, not the gender with which they identify. Gov. Pat McCrory and the other defendants have until June 9 to respond.

The law also bans local governments from extending LGBT protections. Republican legislators say they passed HB2 to block an amended ordinance by the city of Charlotte that would have extended LGBT legal benefits, including bathroom use.

The ACLU, along with other groups, sued the state over HB2 within days of McCrory signing it into law.

While HB2 doesn’t spell out a crime, a penalty or a way it is to be enforced, the law orders cities, counties, colleges and school boards to comply. It also has set off an international debate that has cost the state jobs, concerts and other forms of big-name entertainment events and branded the state as discriminatory. The federal government has sued. So have McCrory and legislative leaders, who want a court to rule that HB2 does not discriminate.

On Friday, President Barack Obama told the country’s public schools to allow transgender students to use the bathroom of their gender identity. Conservatives again accused the White House of federal overreach to enforce a liberal agenda out of step with most mainstream Americans, and they say transgender bathroom rights pose a safety threat to women and girls.

Meanwhile, public educational facilities from colleges to kindergartens are caught in the crossfire involving two of their biggest sources of money. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools receives almost $800 million from the state; more than $136 million from the federal government. Obama and Attorney General Loretta Lynch have each raised the possibility of withholding federal support from schools who comply with HB2.

The court fight could go on for months if not years. On Monday, the ACLU said the law should be blocked before it does more damage.

“The U.S. Justice Department has made it clear that HB2 violates federal law,” said Chris Brook, the group’s legal director in North Carolina. “Governor McCrory and the North Carolina legislature wrote into state law discrimination against transgender people who just want to be able to use public facilities safely and securely.”

Emails to attorneys and spokespeople for McCrory, Attorney General Roy Cooper (also a defendant) and state Senate leader Phil Berger were not immediately returned.

In an earlier response to the ACLU’s original lawsuit, Berger and House Speaker Tim Moore accused the group and Cooper, who is battling McCrory for the governor’s office, of using the state “as a pawn in their extreme agenda to force women and young girls to welcome grown men into their bathrooms and locker rooms nationwide.”

Bathroom rights ‘not a threat’

As part of its filing on Monday, the ACLU included a statement by a longtime university police officer from New York state who says that, contrary to what critics say, anti-discrimination ordinances such as Charlotte’s that include enhanced transgender bathroom rights do not pose a threat to public safety.

Aran Mull, assistant chief of police for the University of Albany, said he consulted with law enforcement peers across the country. “In summary, there is no evidence that non-discrimination protections have caused any harm in the 18 states, the District of Columbia or (the) well over 200 municipalities that have adopted such protections. To the contrary, the experience of law enforcement indicates that such protections actually enhance public safety,” Mull said.

The filing also cities an April ruling by the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals that upheld the federal government’s right to include gender identity under its anti-discrimination laws – which McCrory and other GOP leaders have dismissed as a “radical reinterpretation” of the Civil Rights Act.

Schroeder, a George W. Bush appointee, is considered one of the more conservative judges in the federal courts of the Middle District of North Carolina. Last month, he cleared the way for the state’s sweeping election law changes, including requiring voters to show an ID, to be used in this year’s elections. Democrats, the ACLU and other groups had argued that the voter ID and other measures single out minorities, the elderly and young voters – all more likely to vote Democratic.

Michael Gordon: 704-358-5095, @MikeGordonOBS