RALEIGH — The Trump administration is taking steps to drop the federal government’s legal fight against North Carolina’s “bathroom bill.”
The Justice Department wrote in a motion last week that it needs time to rethink its 2016 request to halt North Carolina’s requirement that transgender people use restrooms in many public buildings corresponding to the sex on their birth certificates. The federal judge responded on Friday with a stay that freezes efforts started by lawyers working under President Barack Obama to block the law with a preliminary injunction.
The Justice Department’s move was foreshadowed last month by the Trump administration’s reversal of guidelines that transgender students nationwide should be able to use school bathrooms corresponding to their gender identity.
Despite the Justice Department’s reversal, North Carolina residents challenging the law can press ahead with a separate lawsuit, but they’ve lost the dual punch provided by federal lawyers.
The fate of North Carolina’s law will also be heavily influenced by a separate Virginia case involving a transgender student seeking to use the boys’ bathroom. On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court returned that case to a federal appeals court in Richmond.
The now-rescinded Obama administration guidelines formed the basis for a key argument that North Carolina was violating the federal Title IX law with the measure commonly referred to as House Bill 2. The state law also excludes gender identity and sexual orientation from statewide antidiscrimination protections.
Chris Brook, legal director for the North Carolina chapter of the ACLU, has said his legal team was preparing for the likelihood that the new Republican administration would pull out of the North Carolina case or rewrite the federal guidelines.
The Title IX argument is one of several by the ACLU, but it was the decisive factor in an August ruling that the state’s university system must allow three plaintiffs to use restrooms matching their gender identity while the case is pending.
But federal judge Thomas Schroeder indicated that he wasn’t convinced by the ACLU’s arguments that House Bill 2 violates the U.S. Constitution. In response, the ACLU asked the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond to take another look at their constitutional arguments; the appeals court has scheduled a May hearing.
Meanwhile, the rest of the North Carolina case is on hold, pending the outcome of the Virginia transgender case that’s now back before the 4th Circuit.