Justice Department files complaint over North Carolina bathroom law

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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Protests against North Carolina transgender bathroom law
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Justice Department files complaint over North Carolina bathroom law
ASHEVILLE, NC - JUNE 21: A display inside Malaprop's Bookstore/Cafe in Asheville, North Carolina features books by authors who support the repeal of HB2 on June 21, 2016. Malaprop's has had authors cancel and a decline in sales due to North Carolina's HB2 legislation, commonly known as the bathroom bill, and the resulting boycott of the state by authors, athletes and tourists. (Photo by Jacob Biba for The Washington Post via Getty Images)
ASHEVILLE, NC - JUNE 21: A sign next to the men's bathroom inside Malaprop's Bookstore/Cafe in Asheville, North Carolina denounces North Carolina's HB2 legislation on June 21, 2016. Malaprop's has had authors cancel and a decline in sales due to North Carolina's HB2 legislation, commonly known as the bathroom bill, and the resulting boycott of the state by authors, athletes and tourists. (Photo by Jacob Biba for The Washington Post via Getty Images)
ASHEVILLE, NC - JUNE 21: A bulletin board inside Malaprop's Bookstore/Cafe in Asheville, North Carolina features upcoming author visits and events scheduled for the bookstore on June 21, 2016. Malaprop's has had authors cancel and a decline in sales due to North Carolina's HB2 legislation, commonly known as the bathroom bill, and the resulting boycott of the state by authors, athletes and tourists. (Photo by Jacob Biba for The Washington Post via Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - MAY 16 - Protestors gather across the street from the North Carolina state legislative building as they voice their concerns over House Bill 2, in Raleigh, N.C., Monday, May 16, 2016. House Bill 2, also known as the Bathroom Bill, which requires transgender people to use the public restroom matching the sex on their birth certificate, has received the attention of national media and the White House. (Photo By Al Drago/CQ Roll Call)
UNITED STATES - MAY 16 - Protestors gather across the street from the North Carolina state legislative building as they voice their concerns over House Bill 2, in Raleigh, N.C., Monday, May 16, 2016. House Bill 2, also known as the Bathroom Bill, which requires transgender people to use the public restroom matching the sex on their birth certificate, has received the attention of national media and the White House. (Photo By Al Drago/CQ Roll Call)
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)
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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