North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper announced on Tuesday he won’t defend in court the recently enacted measure in his state that’s considered the worst anti-LGBT law in the nation.
Cooper, a Democrat who’s running to become the state’s governor, declared he won’t defend House Bill 2 in court at an 11 am news conference at his office in Raleigh.
“Over the last 15 years, our office has defended the state, its officials and agencies when they’ve been sued,” Cooper said. “Our office will continue to do that, except it will not defend the constitutionality of the discrimination in House Bill 2.”
House Bill 2, signed into law last week by Gov. Pat McCrory after an emergency session of the state legislature, undos all pro-LGBT city ordinances in North Carolina, including the recently approved measure in Charlotte, and prohibits transgender people from using public restrooms consistent with their gender identity in schools and government buildings.
Cooper said his decision is based on LGBT non-discrimination policies in place both in his office and the North Carolina treasurer’s office, which he said are “in direct conflict” with House Bill 2. The treasurer’s office, Cooper said, asked him to represent the office in court to defend the policy in opposition to House Bill 2.
“In order to protect our non-discrimination policy and employees along with those of our client, the state treasurer’s office, part of our argument will be that House Bill 2 is unconstitutional,” Cooper said. “Therefore, our office will not represent the defendants in this lawsuit, nor future lawsuits involving the constitutionality of House Bill 2.”
Citing the potential economy penalty and loss of business for North Carolina, Cooper said McCrory should call on the state legislature to “fix” House Bill 2 to eliminate what he called discrimination enshrined into state law and avoid litigation altogether.
“The fact is we shouldn’t have to be dealing with these lawsuits in the first place,” Cooper said. “This shameful, new law has brought them upon us. Discrimination is wrong. Period. The governor and the legislature should repeal this law. Repeal will save needless litigation costs and will begin to repair our national reputation.”
Invoking Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal’s recent veto of “religious freedom” legislation in his state seen to enable anti-LGBT discrimination, Cooper said McCrory “should have done the same thing” as Deal.
“He saw what happened in the state of Indiana when that state passed laws that discriminate,” Cooper said. “He saw that Indiana lost business and millions of dollars of revenue, and every day working people there were hurt. Gov. Deal didn’t want that for his state. He just stepped up yesterday and veto this law that would have allowed discrimination in Georgia because he knew that it would hurt Georgia’s economy. Our governor should have done the same thing and vetoed House Bill 2, but he did not.”
On Monday, LGBT advocacy groups — Lambda Legal, the American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of North Carolina and Equality NC — filed a lawsuit in federal court arguing the law is unconstitutional on the basis it violates equal protection under the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, which prohibits gender discrimination in schools.
In a joint statement, the four organizations behind the lawsuit commended Cooper, saying he stands “on the right side” of history for declining to defend House Bill 2 in court.
“North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper, the state’s top law enforcement official, has concluded House Bill 2 is unconstitutional and harms North Carolinians without justification,” the statement says. “As our lawsuit highlighted yesterday, House Bill 2 singles out the LGBT community for discrimination. That’s not only incompatible with the state’s constitutional and legal obligations but also our shared values as North Carolinians. We’re grateful the attorney general stands on the right side of history with the many cities, states, businesses and individuals who have come out against this harmful measure.”
Cooper’s decision not to defend House Bill 2 in court is consistent with his previously stated opposition to the measure, although he hasn’t indicated until now he won’t defend the law against litigation. Last week, Cooper made public a video as the state legislature was debating House Bill 2, calling the measure “discrimination.”
In 2014, Cooper also declined to defend his state’s ban on same-sex marriage after the U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against Virginia’s marriage ban. However, Cooper has elected to defend in court Senate Bill 2, a measure passed over McCrory’s veto last year that allows magistrates to opt out of performing marriages — same-sex or different-sex — for a six-month period over religious objections.