In suing the state where she was born and raised for discriminating against transgender people, Attorney General Loretta Lynch invoked the defining civil rights struggles of the last century and made clear that the federal government sees its dispute with North Carolina as about far more than bathrooms and showers. Lynch, the first black woman to hold the job, elevated the profile of the Justice Department's potentially epic clash with North Carolina over its new bathroom law by placing it in the context of America's Jim Crow era -- when signs above water fountains and restaurants fostered race discrimination -- as well as more recent efforts to deny gay couples the right to marry.
Last week, the Justice Department wrote to North Carolina officials, giving them until Monday to confirm "the State will not comply with or implement" the controversial HB2 law. The anti-LGBT statute, the Justice Department concluded, "is facially discriminatory."
Facing that deadline, North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory (R) did, in fact, respond to the Obama administration's letter -- by filing a lawsuit against the Obama administration. NBC News reported yesterday afternoon that the state took the matter to federal court, arguing that the Justice Department's position is "a baseless and blatant overreach" and a radical reinterpretation of federal laws.
"Transgender status is not a protected class" under the Civil Rights Act, McCrory's attorneys -- who bypassed state Attorney General Roy Cooper (D) in taking this action -- argued in their suit.
A few hours later, the Justice Department responded with a lawsuit of its own. WRAL in Raleigh reported:
"Instead of turning away from our neighbors, friends and colleagues, let us instead learn from our history and avoid repeating the mistakes of our past," Lynch said at a press conference late yesterday afternoon. "Let us reflect on the obvious but neglected lesson that state-sanctioned discrimination never looks good and never works in hindsight."
The Attorney General added, "What this law does is inflict further indignity on a population that has suffered far more than its fair share." Speaking directly to the trans community, Lynch concluded, "We see you, we stand with you, and we will do everything we can to protect you."
It's going to take a fair amount of time for the matter to be adjudicated, but it's going to be a closely watched case. Vox's German Lopez explained, "If the courts recognize the Justice Department's interpretation of federal civil rights law, it could effectively expand existing civil rights protections that explicitly ban discrimination based on race and sex, among other traits, to explicitly include gender identity."
As for the quality of the state's case, Slate's Mark Joseph Stern took a closer look at the McCrory administration's lawsuit on the merits and noted, "Some of this is erroneous; some of it is mendacious."