Justice Department files complaint over North Carolina bathroom law

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U.S. Justice Department Files Lawsuit Against North Carolina Over Bathroom Law

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Justice Department on Monday sued North Carolina to get it to abandon a law that restricts use of public restrooms, further escalating a fight over the rights of transgender Americans.

Hours earlier, North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory and the state's secretary of public safety had sued the agency for declaring the law a civil rights violation, accusing it of "baseless and blatant overreach."

In March, North Carolina became the first state in the country to ban people from using multiple occupancy restrooms or changing rooms in public buildings and schools that do not match the sex on their birth certificate.

See more of the protests over North Carolina's bathroom bill:

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Justice Department files complaint over North Carolina bathroom law
In this photo taken Thursday, May 12, 2016, signage is seen outside a restroom at 21c Museum Hotel in Durham, N.C. North Carolina is in a legal battle over a state law that requires transgender people to use the public restroom matching the sex on their birth certificate. The ADA-compliant bathroom signs were designed by artist Peregrine Honig. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)
Opponents of House Bill 2 protest across the street from the North Carolina State Capitol in Raleigh, N.C., Monday, April 11, 2016 during a rally in support of the law that blocks rules allowing transgender people to use the bathroom aligned with their gender identity. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)
A police officer confronts a lady holding a sign at the North Carolina State Capitol in Raleigh, N.C., Monday, April 11, 2016, during a rally in support of a law that blocks rules allowing transgender people to use the bathroom aligned with their gender identity. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)
DURHAM, NC - MAY 10: The 'We Are Not This' slogan is posted at the entrances to Bull McCabes Irish Pub on May 10, 2016 in Durham, North Carolina. Debate over transgender bathroom access spreads nationwide as the U.S. Department of Justice countersues North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory from enforcing the provisions of House Bill 2 (HB2) that dictate what bathrooms transgender individuals can use. (Photo by Sara D. Davis/Getty Images)
Supporters gather at the North Carolina State Capitol in Raleigh, N.C., Monday, April 11, 2016, in support of House Bill 2, a law that blocks rules allowing transgender people to use the bathroom aligned with their gender identity. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)
Opponents of House Bill 2 protest across the street from the State Capitol Building in Raleigh, N.C., Monday, April 11, 2016 during a rally in support of the law that blocks rules allowing transgender people to use the bathroom aligned with their gender identity. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)
Two protesters hold up signs against passage of legislation in North Carolina, which limits the bathroom options for transgender people, during a rally in Charlotte, N.C., Thursday, March 31, 2016. The rally drew around 100 people at the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Government Center. (AP Photos/Skip Foreman)
Demonstrators protesting passage of legislation limiting bathroom access for transgender people stand in front of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Government Center in Charlotte, N.C., Thursday, March 31, 2016. Approximately 100 people gathered for the rally, many chanting and carrying signs. (AP Photos/Skip Foreman)
FILE - In this March 30, 2016 file photo, Human Rights Campaign Executive Director Chad Griffin, center, speaks at a news conference at the old state Capitol Building in Raleigh, N.C. Griffin was among several LGBT leaders who headed to the state to join in protests and plot strategy for trying to overturn a new law limiting bathroom options for transgender people. Stung by setbacks related to their access to public restrooms, transgender Americans are taking steps to play a more prominent and vocal role in a nationwide campaign to curtail discrimination against them. (AP Photo/Gary Robertson, File)
People protest outside the North Carolina Executive Mansion in Raleigh, N.C., Thursday, March 24, 2016. North Carolina legislators decided to rein in local governments by approving a bill Wednesday that prevents cities and counties from passing their own anti-discrimination rules. North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory later signed the legislation, which dealt a blow to the LGBT movement after success with protections in cities across the country. (AP Photo/Emery P. Dalesio)
People protest outside the North Carolina Executive Mansion in Raleigh, N.C., Thursday, March 24, 2016. North Carolina legislators decided to rein in local governments by approving a bill Wednesday that prevents cities and counties from passing their own anti-discrimination rules. North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory later signed the legislation, which dealt a blow to the LGBT movement after success with protections in cities across the country. (AP Photo/Emery P. Dalesio)
North Carolina lawmakers gather on the House floor for a special session Wednesday, March 23, 2016 in Raleigh, N.C. to consider stopping a new Charlotte ordinance set to take effect April 1 that gives protections to transgender people to use the restroom of their gender identity. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)
This March 10, 2015 photo shows a PayPal sign outside of the main entrance to an office building in San Jose, Calif. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)
Elaine Martin, right, listens as Chris Sgro, executive director of Equality NC, speaks during a press conference to announce filing of federal lawsuit challenging North Carolina's HB 2 law at the LGBT Center of Raleigh on Monday, March 28, 2016. Several different advocacy groups and some of the lead plaintiffs spoke at the event. (Chris Seward/Raleigh News & Observer/TNS via Getty Images)
Joaquin Carcano, center, the lead plaintiff in the case, speaks during a press conference to announce filing of federal lawsuit challenging North Carolina's HB 2 law at the LGBT Center of Raleigh on Monday, March 28, 2016. Several different advocacy groups and some of the lead plaintiffs spoke at the event. Joaquin was born a woman and is now a man. Simone Bell with Lambda Law is at left; Chris Brook with the ACLU is at right. (Chris Seward/Raleigh News & Observer/TNS via Getty Images)
TO GO AFP STORY BY BRIGITTE DUSSEAU - Transgender delegates Jamie Shier (L) and Janice Covington pose for photographs at the Convention Center in Charlotte, North Carolina, on September 4, 2012. The Democratic National Convention Committee announced Wednesday that US President Barack Obama would move his acceptance speech from the outdoor Bank of America Stadium to the indoor Time Warner Cable Arena due to predictions of thunderstorms. AFP PHOTO / Mladen ANTONOV (Photo credit should read BRIGITTE DUSSEAU/AFP/GettyImages)
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U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch said the department also "retains the option" of curtailing federal funding to North Carolina over the issue.

"None of us can stand by when a state enters the business of legislating identity and insists that a person pretend to be something or someone that they are not," said Lynch, comparing the measure to Jim Crow-era racial discrimination laws and bans on same-sex marriage.

The Justice Department's complaint, which was filed in federal district court in North Carolina, named the state of North Carolina, McCrory, the state's Department of Public Safety and the University of North Carolina system as defendants.

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The department's top civil rights lawyer, Vanita Gupta, sent letters to the same group last week, saying the ban was a civil rights violation and the state could face a federal lawsuit if it did not stop enforcing it by Monday.

The North Carolina officials sued Gupta as well as U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch for their "radical reinterpretation" of federal civil rights law in federal district court in North Carolina.

"We're taking the Obama admin to court. They're bypassing Congress, attempting to rewrite law & policies for the whole country, not just NC," McCrory, a Republican, wrote on Twitter.

McCrory told reporters that North Carolina leaders had been forced to pass the law, known as HB 2, after the Charlotte city council passed an ordinance requiring access to bathrooms based on gender identity in public as well as private buildings.

The Republican leaders of North Carolina's state legislature also sued the U.S. government over the law on Monday, hours after McCrory's lawsuit.

(Writing by Julia Harte; Additional reporting by Julia Harte and Julia Edwards in Washington; Editing by Alistair Bell)

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