A top Republican lawmaker in North Carolina said the state would not be "bullied" by the U.S. Justice Department into meeting a Monday deadline to change a new law regulating which bathrooms transgender people can use.
"We will take no action by Monday," House Speaker Tim Moore told reporters in Raleigh on Thursday, after the federal government told the state that the law enacted in March violated the U.S. Civil Rights Act.
The law requires transgender people to use bathrooms that correspond with the sex on their birth certificate rather than their gender identity.
The Justice Department said in letters to McCrory and other state officials that North Carolina was discriminating against transgender state employees and it had until Monday to say whether it would remedy the violations.
North Carolina is the first U.S. state to pass a law limiting transgender access to restrooms, though Republican legislators in several other states have proposed similar laws, making transgender rights a hot-button social issue and contested legal frontier in this election year.
The Justice Department's challenge is similarly unprecedented, but the agency has intervened on behalf of transgender individuals alleging discrimination before.
If North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory does not say he will stand down from enforcing the law, the federal agency's civil rights division could push for a court order. If a federal judge sides with the Justice Department, North Carolina will have to comply or face a restriction of federal funds.
On Thursday, a spokeswoman for Republican Senate leader Phil Berger said state lawyers were reviewing the letter. Berger on Wednesday said the department's position represented "a gross overreach."
North Carolina's Secretary of Public Safety and officials at the University of North Carolina also received similar letters.
Margaret Spellings, president of the University of North Carolina system, said her office would respond to the department's letter by the Monday deadline.
"We take this determination seriously and will be conferring with the Governor's Office, legislative leaders, and counsel about next steps and will respond to the Department by its May 9 deadline," she said.
A Justice Department spokeswoman would not say whether the department would take legal action against the state or what sources of funding may be restricted.
Moore said the tight deadline was unreasonable and that the federal government's position was inappropriate.
Jillian Weiss, an attorney who has argued for transgender rights in federal court, said the Justice Department's move against North Carolina is a signal that the federal government is willing to get involved when states pass laws that reduce rights based on gender identity and sexual orientation.
"This is a big thumb nosing to federal government and federal law," Weiss said of the North Carolina law.
Weiss predicts that Mississippi, which just passed a law allowing businesses to refuse service to gay people, will be the Justice Department's next target.
North Carolina's law has become a point of debate in a number of high-profile races, including the contests for the Republican presidential nomination as well as the governor's office and a U.S. Senate seat in North Carolina.
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