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Obama Justice Department Asks Federal Judge to Block N.C. Transgender Law

Department of Justice building in Washington, D.C.

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — The U.S. Justice Department has asked a federal judge to halt North Carolina's law requiring people to use restrooms corresponding to the sex on their birth certificates, citing the harassment of transgender people since the measure was enacted earlier this year.

The request for a preliminary injunction, filed late Tuesday, provides the most extensive look yet at the Justice Department's argument that the bathroom-access requirements violate federal civil rights laws.

AP Photo/Toby Talbot

The filing comes just after North Carolina lawmakers left the measure largely intact during their session that ended Friday, all but ensuring that the measure's fate will be decided in federal court. Republican Gov. Pat McCrory had yet to sign their minor revision into law on Wednesday.

Pressure to change the law has come from business leaders, entertainers and the NBA.

The governor and legislative leaders say the law is needed to protect women and children from criminals who would pose as the opposite sex to enter restrooms.

But the Justice Department argues that a "growing consensus among federal courts," including a recent appeals court ruling, shows that the bathroom-access measure violates three federal laws — Title IX and Title VII, which forbid sex-based discrimination, and the Violence Against Women Act, which expressly prohibits discrimination based on gender identity.

Lawyers for North Carolina's legislative leaders have dismissed the federal government's argument as a "radical theory." Their legal filing in May said "whether one is a man or a woman, and entitled to be treated as such, is an objective inquiry, driven by straightforward principles of anatomy and genetics."

The wide-ranging law approved during a special legislative session in March requires people to use the bathrooms in schools, universities and other state government buildings that correspond to the sex on their birth certificates.

It also excludes gender identity and sexual orientation from statewide antidiscrimination protections governing workplaces, restaurants and hotels; and overrules local antidiscrimination ordinances.

Rallies to support the law have drawn thousands of conservatives to Raleigh.

The General Assembly revisited the law during its yearly legislative session, with lawmakers huddling privately to discuss changes. In the end, they chose to restore the ability of workers to use state law to sue over employment discrimination on the basis of race, religion, age and other factors, but left gender identity and sexual orientation unprotected.

Senate leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, insisted on the need to protect public safety "by keeping grown men out of bathrooms, shower facilities and changing rooms with women and young girls."

McCrory is pleased with the change he requested on workplace lawsuits, his spokesman said, but the legislation still awaited his signature on Wednesday.

The Justice Department says there's no evidence of such a public safety problem in 17 states and 200 cities or counties that have allowed transgender people to use restrooms matching their gender identity.

The Justice Department is suing the state, while McCrory and legislative leaders have filed separate lawsuits to defend the law. North Carolina residents also sued, for and against the law.

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