- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 5, 2016

The U.S. Department of Justice is now directly pitting the University of North Carolina system against its state government.

The University of North Carolina System said it has been given until Monday to comply with a Justice order to break a state law concerning bathroom access, or risk losing more than $1 billion in federal education funding.

In a letter sent to the higher education system’s president and board of directors, which mirrored one sent to North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory, the Justice Department said compliance with the state law HB2 discriminates against transgender people and violates federal civil rights law.

“This policy discriminates on the basis of sex, including gender identity, because it treats transgender individuals whose gender identities do not match their gender assigned at birth differently from similarly situated non-transgender individuals,” wrote Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta.

The agency gave UNC until the close of business on Monday to comply with the order. The public higher education system received approximately $1.4 billion in federal education funding last school year.

UNC System President Margaret Spellings acknowledged the letter in a statement Wednesday night, but did not say whether the system will comply before Monday’s deadline.


“We take this determination very seriously and will be conferring with the Governor’s Office, legislative leaders, and counsel about next steps and will respond to the Department by its May 9 deadline,” Ms. Spellings wrote.

In its order to the UNC System, the Justice Department states that HB2 violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, which bans employment discrimination, and Title IX of the Education Amendments, which bans discrimination in education based on sex.

Alliance Defending Freedom Legal Counsel Kellie Fiedorek called such interpretation baseless.

“North Carolina’s bathroom privacy law, HB2, fully complies with federal law,” Ms. Fiedorek said in a statement. “It’s absurd to assert, as the Department of Justice does, that by placing the word ‘sex’ in federal nondiscrimination laws, Congress intended to force states to open their restrooms to people of the opposite biological sex.”

“Governor McCrory and the state of North Carolina are fulfilling their duty to protect the privacy rights of their citizens,” she said. “The DOJ should stop bullying North Carolina with falsehoods about what federal law requires.”

North Carolina Republicans have not indicated whether they will comply with the order, but several state leaders called the Justice Department’s mandate another example of federal “overreach.”

Mr. McCrory on Wednesday night told state business leaders that the letter is “something we’ve never seen regarding Washington overreach in my lifetime,” adding that it could have tremendous consequences for the nation as a whole.

“This is not just a N.C. issue,” he said. “This impacts every state, every university and almost every employee in the United States of America. All those will have to comply with new definitions of requirements by the federal government regarding restrooms, locker rooms and shower facilities in both the private and the public sector.”

Speaker of the House Tim Moore told reporters that the Justice Department’s actions are a “huge overreach [by] the federal government” and said GOP leaders are consulting with their attorneys.

“It looks an awful lot like politics to me,” said Mr. Moore, Kings Mountain Republican. “I guess President Obama, in his final months in office, has decided to take up this ultraliberal agenda.”

Pro-LGBT groups praised the ultimatum, calling on Mr. McCrory to repeal the law.

“We once again urge Gov. McCrory and the state of North Carolina to immediately… fully repeal this harmful bill,” said Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign, which spearheaded a boycott in North Carolina over the legislation.

• Bradford Richardson can be reached at brichardson@washingtontimes.com.

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