McCrory fumbles HB2 response

In the matter of HB2, Gov. Pat McCrory continues to present his dithering as resolve and it keeps making the situation worse.

First, he signed the bill into law without consulting with the affected parties or the public, then he played the statesman by calling for discussion of it. Now, he’s posing as standing firm even as he reveals his uncertainty about how civil rights law works. That’s something he should have explored before making North Carolina the first state to bar transgender people from using the bathrooms in public agencies and schools that match their gender identity.

McCrory asked for clarification in a federal lawsuit filed Monday in response to a U.S. Department of Justice demand that North Carolina repeal or refuse to enforce its so-called “bathroom bill. ”

McCrory’s suit requests that a federal judge in North Carolina’s Eastern District clarify whether transgender people are a “protected class” under civil rights law. Or, to simplify, the governor wants to know: “Is the state of North Carolina allowed to discriminate against transgender people?”

The Justice Department responded Monday by saying the law is clear and filed its own lawsuit against North Carolina for civil rights violations. The Justice Department may seek to curtail the state’s federal funding as the case proceeds.

U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch, an assured and well-informed leader not given to dithering, said in a news conference Monday that HB2 “has set in place state-sanctioned discrimination.” While still willing to discuss ways to ways to fix the law, Lynch said the Justice Department will press its case.

“None of us can stand by when a state enters the business of legislating identity and insists that a person pretend to be something or someone they are not,”she said.

McCrory’s “we’ll-see-you-in-court” response cut off discussion with the Justice Department about less dramatic and less costly ways of resolving the department’s concerns about how HB2 affects state employees. UNC has been warned that HB2 violates the civil rights of transgender students. The UNC Board of Governors is expected to respond Tuesday.

It’s remarkable that McCrory, who has been meekly compliant toward the Republican-controlled legislature, is flexing his muscles against the U.S. government. He has it exactly backward. He should have stood tough against the GOP zealots who decided to stamp out local laws that protect against discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. And he should have been flexible when the Justice Department asked him to adjust HB2 to avoid a suspension of federal funding.

McCrory is defending the indefensible, a law that allows for discrimination. What he is not defending are the best interests of North Carolina.