A federal judge on Friday blocked the enforcement of North Carolina’s HB2 law that restricts which bathrooms transgender people can use.
In an 83 page decision, U.S. District Judge Thomas Schroeder ruled that two students and an employee must be allowed to use restrooms matching their gender identity at University of North Carolina campuses, and he said they have a strong chance of proving the state’s bathroom-access measure violates federal law.
While not final until after trial, Judge Schroeder indicated in his injunction that the plaintiffs have a strong chance of proving that the state’s bathroom law violates Title IX – a federal law prohibiting discrimination on the basis of gender in educational institutions.
Schroeder, nominated to the bench by President George W. Bush reserved judgment on the broader constitutionality of the law, saying that plaintiffs had “not made a clear showing” that they would prevail in their argument that the statute violates their constitutional rights under the equal protection or due process clauses.
Albeit a narrow one, the ruling is still a milestone victory for critics of the measure, commonly referred to as House Bill 2 or HB2 for short, and a definite political blow to many Republican lawmakers in North Carolina, who have championed the statute as crucial to public safety.
The partial ruling, filed Friday in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina, is being hailed as a victory by LGBTQ and human rights groups, while lawmakers who backed the bill have said that they are pleased that the order is limited only to the three plaintiffs in the suit.
“Today is a great day for me, and hopefully this is a start to chipping away at the injustice of H.B. 2 that is harming thousands of other transgender people who call North Carolina home,” Joaquín Carcaño, a transgender man who is a plaintiff in the case and a University of North Carolina employee, said in a statement. “Today, the tightness that I have felt in my chest every day since H.B. 2 passed has eased. But the fight is not over: We won’t rest until this discriminatory law is defeated.”
Schroeder’s order came just five months after republican Gov. Pat McCrory signed the measure into law and propelled North Carolina to the forefront of the broader national debate over transgender rights.
HB2, passed in March, requires transgender people to use restrooms in schools and many public buildings that correspond to the sex on their birth certificates and precludes them from using the restroom that matches their gender identity. It also explicitly excludes gender identity and sexual orientation from statewide antidiscrimination protections.
The American Civil Liberties Union, representing the transgender plaintiffs, and the U.S. Justice Department both argued for a preliminary injunction to block the restroom provision of the law. Defending the law are Republican North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory, Republican lawmakers and a citizens group.
In response to the ruling, the University of North Carolina said that its attorneys are reviewing the order and would fully comply with it.
“We have long said that the university has not and will not be taking steps to enforce HB2,” Joni Worthington, a spokeswoman for the university system, said in a statement late Friday.
Worthington added “We welcome resolution of these issues by the court so that we can focus all of our efforts on our primary mission—educating students”.
Bob Stephens, a lawyer for Gov. Pat McCrory, released a statement saying this “is not a final resolution of this case, and the governor will continue to defend North Carolina law.”
In a separate statement, the General Assembly’s ranking Republicans noted the narrow nature of Judge Schroeder’s ruling. “While the court granted a limited injunction for three individuals, we are pleased it preserved the common-sense protections to keep grown men out of bathrooms and showers with women and young girls for our public schools and for nearly 10 million North Carolinians statewide,” House Speaker Tim Moore and Phil Berger, the president pro tempore of the State Senate, said in a joint statement.
McCrory, a Republican currently up for reelection, has defended the bathroom bill and says that it provides “common sense gender-specific restroom and locker facilities in government buildings and in our schools.”
A Monmouth University poll released earlier this week shows McCrory trailing his Democratic opponent, Attorney General Roy Cooper by nine points with Cooper holding a 52% advantage and McCrory with just 43%. The same poll also found that 55% of North Carolina voters disapprove of the bathroom bill and feel it has hurt the state’s reputation.
UPDATE: An earlier version of the Graphiq map above showed pending legislation in Washington state. The map has since been updated to reflect a ‘Failed’ status in Washington.