North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory (R) and the heads of the state's House of Representatives and Senate filed lawsuits Monday against the U.S. Department of Justice and Attorney General Loretta Lynch, hedging bets that a federal judge will rule the state's transgender bathroom law isn’t discriminatory.
The department filed a countersuit, listing among defendants the University System of North Carolina, saying the law “constitutes a pattern or practice of … discrimination on the basis of sex” in employment, education programs and programs “receiving federal funds in violation of the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2013.”
- UNC System President Margaret Spellings asked the department to consider the “difficult position” she is in, as state schools have “an obligation to adhere to the laws enacted by the State’s General Assembly and its Governor,” as well as “an equally clear obligation to comply with federal law.”
In most cases in which a conflict presents between state and federal law, the state law must yield, according to Article VI of the U.S. Constitution. Spellings acknowledged the system’s intent to act “in good faith” to uphold the federal law, but pointed to a pending court case in the Fourth Circuit in which the court has yet to decide whether equal gender protections extend to using the bathroom of one’s choice.
Though the legality of the law remains to be seen, if the federal agencies interpret the law as discriminatory, which several have indicated they intend to do, institutional funding could be at stake. Spellings, caught in the middle of a political battle between Republican state leadership and a Democratic executive branch at the federal level, assured the Department of Justice of the university’s intent to comply with all federal law, which could put her and the UNC System in a precarious position with her own state’s General Assembly and governor.