Justice Department drops NC LGBT rights lawsuit

April 14, 2017 GMT

The Trump administration is dropping a lawsuit against North Carolina after the state moved to undo House Bill 2.

Justice Department lawyers filed a motion Friday to dismiss their federal lawsuit. The move doesn’t directly affect separate pending litigation by LGBT rights advocates who say the new North Carolina law doesn’t go far enough to ensure rights for all.

North Carolina’s compromise deal last month got rid of the most well-known provision of House Bill 2 that required transgender people to use restrooms in schools and other government buildings corresponding to the sex on their birth certificates. But the replacement law prohibits local governments from enacting new nondiscrimination ordinances until December 2020.

Then-U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch called House Bill 2 “state-sponsored discrimination” last May in announcing the federal lawsuit against North Carolina officials and the University of North Carolina system.

“This action is about a great deal more than bathrooms,” Lynch said at the time, drawing on images of racially segregated bathrooms before the civil rights era. “This is about the dignity and respect we accord to our fellow citizens.”

The lawsuit followed the Obama administration’s position that federal sex discrimination laws cover gender identity. President Donald Trump’s administration has backed off that position, preferring to let the courts rule in a variety of pending lawsuits.

“The Trump administration has taken a very reasonable and common sense action that is welcomed,” former Gov. Pat McCrory, who was named as a defendant in the federal lawsuit, said in a statement.

The American Civil Liberties Union has said it plans to continue its legal fight for LGBT rights in North Carolina despite the new legislation.

“The Trump Administration may want to use the fake repeal of HB 2 as an excuse to further turn their backs on the transgender community, but the rest of us aren’t going to give up that easily,” James Esseks, director of the ACLU’s LGBT Project, said in a statement. “We’ll continue this fight as long as it takes to truly strike down this disastrous law for good.”

The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals this week asked the ACLU and Lambda Legal for more information about how the new law will affect their case and ordered both sides to file new arguments by late April.

Representatives of Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger and House Speaker Tim Moore didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.

Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper, who helped broker the repeal deal, has said he wants to extend LGBT protections further but that the replacement legislation was the best compromise that the Republican-controlled legislature would approve.

The new law received a vote of confidence from the NCAA and the Atlantic Coast Conference, which had moved events out of the state. The NBA is also considering bringing back its All-Star Game, which it pulled from Charlotte in February.

California and several U.S. cities, however, continue to ban taxpayer-funded travel to North Carolina because of the continued restrictions on nondiscrimination ordinances.

The mayors of some of North Carolina’s biggest cities are asking their colleagues across the country to end travel boycotts over a law critics say continues discrimination against LGBT people.

The mayors of 16 North Carolina cities, including Raleigh, Cary and Chapel Hill, wrote a letter Thursday to their counterparts in nine cities asking for the return of conferences and conventions to North Carolina. Those events have been limited by official travel bans.

The letter tells mayors New York, Los Angeles, Seattle and elsewhere that North Carolina municipalities are hurting from the travel bans but lack power to increase LGBT protections.