article by Del Quentin Wilber via latimes.com
The Justice Department sued North Carolina on Monday to stop what it called discrimination against transgender individuals, raising the stakes in a cultural and legal battle that has ramifications for other states and the 2016 election.
U.S. Atty. Gen. Loretta Lynch personally announced the lawsuit, which argues that North Carolina’s so-called bathroom law violates parts of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and other federal laws, and that the state is engaging in a “pattern or practice of sex discrimination.”
Lynch stepped in hours after North Carolina’s Republican governor, Pat McCrory, had sued the Justice Department to prevent it from blocking implementation of the state law, which requires public agencies to deny transgender people access to multiple-occupancy bathrooms and changing rooms consistent with their gender identity.
At a news conference, Lynch linked the dispute to past civil rights struggles over equal access to housing, water fountains and other facilities. “This action is about a great deal more than just bathrooms,” she said. This is “about the respect we accord our fellow citizens and the laws that we … have enacted to protect them.”
She added, “This is not the first time we have seen discriminatory responses to historic moments of progress for our nation.”
The federal lawsuit names the state of North Carolina, McCrory, the state’s Department of Public Safety, the University of North Carolina system and its Board of Governors as defendants.
Since the Supreme Court last year upheld the right of same-sex couples to marry, state legislatures have taken up various bills to address the extent of rights enjoyed by gays, lesbians and transgender people.
The Justice Department had set a Monday deadline for North Carolina to explain how it would amend its law to meet federal standards. Federal officials had said the state could face a lawsuit and the potential loss of billions of dollars in federal funding for state agencies and universities.
“Denying such access to transgender individuals, whose gender identity is different from their gender assignment at birth, while affording it to similarly situated non-transgender employees violates” federal law, Vanita Gupta, who heads the department’s civil rights division, wrote in a May 4 letter to the governor.
The state law has sparked protests from gay rights groups, some companies and businesses, entertainers and sports teams.
PayPal last month canceled plans to open an operations center in North Carolina, Bruce Springsteen nixed a concert, and the NBA said it would move next year’s All-Star game from Charlotte to another state if the law was not changed.