The U.S. Justice Department had something to say about House Bill 2 yesterday, and it’s a big deal. Let’s break it down.
What happened Wednesday?
Justice Department officials said in a letter to the Gov. Pat McCrory that the law passed back in March violates Title VII of the U.S. Civil Rights Act (bans employment discrimination) and Title IX (bars discrimination in education based on sex).
What does that mean?
The Title IX finding could jeopardize billions in federal education funding, for one thing. Just consider: During the current school year, state public schools received $861 million in federal education funding and the UNC system got $1.4 billion in 2014-15.
Back up. What’s HB2?
If you’ve somehow managed to avoid this swirling storm of controversy, here’s the gist:
– Back in March, Charlotte passed a nondiscrimination ordinance that added LGBT anti-discrimination protections and said transgender people could use the bathroom of the gender they identify with.
– Later in March, the Republican-controlled General Assembly called a special session to pass House Bill 2 in response. Not only did it tell transgender people that they had to use the bathroom that matches their birth certificate in government buildings, but it also passed a statewide nondiscrimination ordinance that preempted local ones — like Charlotte’s — and that ordinance didn’t include protections for LGBT people. (Good explainer here.)
– In response, companies like PayPal decided not to expand in the state, conventions decided to go elsewhere and artists cancelled concerts. HB2 became a national story, and there’s even talk about moving the 2017 NBA All-Star Game from Charlotte.
What’d the Justice Department say in the letter?
“HB2 … 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 HB2, differently from similarly situated non transgender employees,” wrote Vanita Gupta, the department’s top civil rights lawyer. (Read the whole letter here.)
How did Gov Pat and the state legislature take this news?
McCrory and Republican supporters of HB2 went all #ThanksObama in response to the news.
McCrory called it “something we’ve never seen regarding Washington overreach in my lifetime.”
House Speaker Tim Moore: “I guess President Obama, in his final months of office, has decided to take up this ultra-liberal agenda.”
So what’s next?
State officials have until Monday to respond “by confirming that the State will not comply with or implement HB2.” That’s a quick turnaround.
And if it doesn’t respond? That federal education funding could go away and we could see some serious battles in court over the employment discrimination issue.
Either way, as University of Richmond law professor Carl Tobias put it, the letter puts “the ball in North Carolina’s court.”
Your move, Gov Pat.
Photos: Charlotte Observer file