After revoking guidance barring schools from discriminating against transgender students, the U.S. Justice Department has now backed off its legal challenge to the controversial anti-LGBT North Carolina state law House Bill 2.
Under former U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch, the Justice Department last year filed a lawsuit against HB2, which bars cities from enacting LGBT ordinances and transgender people from using the restroom consistent with their gender identity. Arguing HB2 violated federal civil rights law, the Justice Department sought a request for a preliminary injunction to enjoin enforcement of the statute as the litigation proceeded.
But on Monday, the Justice Department under U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions withdrew its request for a preliminary injunction, which remained outstanding during the shift between the Obama and Trump administrations.
That filing followed an unopposed request from the department last week to allow an existing, but narrower, injunction instead to take place of the broader injunction the U.S. government once sought to ban enforcement of the law in its totality. The court granted that request.
U.S. District Judge Thomas Schroeder issued the existing preliminary injunction against HB 2 as a result of a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of North Carolina and Lambda Legal, but that order only barred the University of North Carolina from enforcing the law and as it pertained to the plaintiffs in their capacity as students and employees.
The litigation filed against HB2 continues to proceed, but at a slow pace. The U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals is set May 10 to hear arguments in the case filed by the ACLU, ACLU of North Carolina and Lambda Legal, which appealed the narrow preliminary injunction to seek a more expansive injunction before the federal appeals court.
In a joint statement to Washington Blade, the ACLU and Lambda criticized the Justice Department for withdrawing its request for a preliminary injunction, accusing the administration of falling short in its duty to protect civil rights.
“Under Jeff Sessions, the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice is systematically working to stop and rollback the gains of the last eight years,” the organizations said. “DOJ’s latest filing in North Carolina to delay the ruling on their motion for preliminary injunction against HB2 further indicates an unwillingness to protect the rights of transgender people, and accordingly, we must redouble our efforts to enforce our civil rights under the law.”
The Justice Department’s decision to back off its litigation against HB2 is consistent with other anti-trans actions the department has made under Sessions. Last month, the Justice and Education departments revoked guidance assuring transgender students have access to the restroom in schools consistent with their gender identity, prompting the U.S. Supreme Court to scrap consideration of whether Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 affords those protections to transgender students nationwide.
The department withdrew an appeal of a court order against the now rescinded transgender student guidance and missed a deadline to file an appeal of another court order barring enforcement of a regulation assuring transgender people have access to health care, including gender reassignment surgery.
The Justice Department declined to comment in response to a Washington Blade inquiry on whether the withdrawal of the request for a preliminary injunction indicates the administration will soon rescind its lawsuit altogether.