U.S. Says North Carolina Transgender Law Violates Civil Rights Act

May 4, 2016
Originally published on May 5, 2016 9:34 am
Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

In North Carolina today, the U.S. Justice Department warned the state that it's violating civil rights laws. It all stems from North Carolina's passage of the controversial law known as House Bill 2. The measure requires people to use the bathroom that corresponds with the gender listed on their birth certificate.

We're joined by WUNC reporter Jeff Tiberii who's in Raleigh. And Jeff, what does the Justice Department contend is illegal about the new law?

JEFF TIBERII, BYLINE: Well, the DOJ says House Bill 2 is not in compliance with the Civil Rights Act. The Justice Department sent a three-page letter to Governor Pat McCrory today. It says the new law is unconstitutional because it violates Title VII and IX of the Civil Rights Act. Federal officials say this new state law passed in March discriminates against people who are transgender, and if these violations aren't dealt with soon, federal education funding could be cut.

SIEGEL: How did state lawmakers react to that?

TIBERII: Well, the Republicans were not at all pleased. The leader of the State Senate, Phil Berger, called this a gross overreach. North Carolina's House speaker, Tim Moore, said that it's just another move by what he coined a radical Obama administration. Here's what Speaker Moore said moments after learning about the letter.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TIM MOORE: I'm always frustrated when the federal government overreaches on something like this. It's - and I'm particularly frustrated when it's on something that's just such basic, common sense.

TIBERII: And Robert, the governor, Pat McCrory, is likely to again continue defending the law. He's a Republican running for reelection in a tight gubernatorial battle. He said late today, it's no longer just a North Carolina issue. Since lawmakers passed House Bill 2 during a hastily called special session, the leading Republicans have repeatedly said they don't want to change his bill.

SIEGEL: Jeff, I want you to remind us how this law, House Bill 2, came to be.

TIBERII: Well, it all started when the Charlotte City Council passed a local law that gave protections to the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community - LGBT. State lawmakers stepped in a few weeks later to undo that city ordinance, and when they did, they went much further.

The state law prohibits cities and counties from passing any protections for the LGBT community. It eliminates state lawsuits over alleged wrongful discrimination and even keeps cities from enacting a local minimum wage that is higher than the state amount. So ultimately this controversial law centered around bathrooms is much more about local versus state power.

SIEGEL: And how significant is this letter from the Justice Department?

TIBERII: The Justice Department has already sided with a transgender high school student in a federal civil case over bathroom access in Virginia. Today's development here in North Carolina is significant because it puts some federal funding at risk.

Since its passage in March, the measure has been very contentious. At least two corporations have decided not to expand in the state. Well-known performers, including Bruce Springsteen and Mumford and Sons have canceled gigs. And executives and even some elected officials have said this has damaged the state's economy and reputation. Still, supporter see this as a wedge issue in an election year, and they hope to mobilize voters come November. The Justice Department gave the state until Monday to change this new law, so the next few days here at the legislature should be very interesting.

SIEGEL: That's Jeff Tiberii, Capitol reporter from member station WUNC in Raleigh, N.C. Jeff, thanks a lot.

TIBERII: My pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.