Newton vows to defend HB2 from the feds

Thank you for being one of our most loyal readers. Please consider supporting community journalism by subscribing.

State Sen. Buck Newton says he’ll fight to defend House Bill 2 against U.S. Department of Justice officials who say the legislation runs afoul of federal nondiscrimination laws.

In a Wednesday letter to Gov. Pat McCrory, Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta said HB2 violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1974 and the federal Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act.

The state law “is facially discriminatory against transgender employees on the basis of sex because it treats transgender employees, whose gender identity does not match their ‘biological sex’ as defined by H.B. 2, differently from similarly situated non-transgender employees,” Gupta wrote.

Gupta said the state could be sued unless McCrory agrees not to implement the law. A ruling against North Carolina in federal court could jeopardize more than $2 billion in federal education dollars.

“It is contemptible that the Obama lawyers are holding our children’s classroom funding hostage and trying to force us into allowing men into women’s showers,” Newton said. “It’s just plain sick. I’m confident a court following the rule of law will resist this gross overreach by the federal government and instead uphold the basic principles of privacy and public safety protected under North Carolina law.”

HB2, formally titled the Public Facilities Privacy and Security Act, requires people to use the restrooms, changing rooms and shower facilities designated for their biological gender in government buildings and institutes a statewide nondiscrimination law that excludes gender identity and sexual orientation from protected statuses.

The General Assembly passed the bill and McCrory signed it into law following a daylong special legislative session on March 23. Lawmakers wrote the bill to prevent a Charlotte city ordinance allowing transgender people to use the restrooms matching their gender identity from taking effect as scheduled April 1.

House Bill 2 ignited a nationwide controversy and led to a business backlash, with executives from more than 180 companies signing a letter opposing the law, PayPal scrapping its plans to hire 400 workers in the state and Bruce Springsteen, Ringo Starr and Pearl Jam canceling their North Carolina concerts.

Gupta cited case law, including an April 19 ruling by the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals holding that the U.S. Department of Education’s interpretation of Title IX — schools “generally must treat transgender students consistent with their gender identity” — should be afforded “controlling weight” in judicial review.

In that case, a transgender student in Gloucester County, Virginia, sued the school board after it said he could not use the boys’ restroom because he is biologically female. The student dresses and identifies as male.

Newton, the Republican nominee for North Carolina attorney general who faces Democrat Josh Stein in November’s general election, stressed that the letter from the U.S. Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division represents only the DOJ’s interpretation of those federal laws.

“The Justice Department hasn’t filed anything yet, so we don’t know for sure exactly what form they will take,” he said. “They probably will try to go to court to get some sort of injunction, and that will take some time. Depending on the ruling, we expect either side will probably appeal it.”

Newton said he’s committed to defending House Bill 2 all the way to the nation’s highest court if necessary.

“Eventually, it would make its way to the Supreme Court,” he said, “where I as attorney general would, of course, be standing up for North Carolina and its citizens.”

Roy Cooper, the four-term Democratic attorney general challenging McCrory in November’s gubernatorial election, has said HB2 violates federal law and has refused to defend it in court.

Supporters say the law promotes privacy in public restrooms and changing facilities by preventing people from having to share space with those of the opposite gender. Opponents counter that it discriminates against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, noting that the new nondiscrimination law supersedes city and county ordinances that extended employment protections for sexual orientation and gender identity.

McCrory signed an executive order April 12 expanding nondiscrimination law for state employees to cover those categories and clarifying that private businesses can set their own policies for access to restrooms, showers and changing rooms.

The governor also called on legislative leaders to repeal a portion of the bill that blocks workers from bringing employment discrimination claims in the state court system.

Newton said Thursday he doesn’t support any changes to House Bill 2.

In the Wednesday letter, Gupta set a Monday deadline for McCrory to notify the Department of Justice whether the state would “remedy these violations of Title VII” and pledge not to implement or comply with the law.

House Speaker Tim Moore said Thursday the legislature will not meet the DOJ’s deadline, but said General Assembly leaders were consulting with attorneys to determine the state’s response.

cfriedman@wilsontimes.com | 265-7813