Federal judge grills GOP lawyers over need for bathroom law

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — A federal judge in Winston-Salem heard more than three hours of arguments in a case asking him to stop the state from enforcing North Carolina’s controversial House Bill 2 until a trial in November.

More than a dozen attorneys filled the courtroom representing the North Carolina American Civil Liberties Union, a number of transgender men and women, Gov. Pat McCrory, North Carolina lawmakers and the University of North Carolina system.

The ACLU argued HB2 targets transgender men and women for discrimination by forcing them to use restrooms, changing rooms and locker rooms based on their biological sex rather than their gender identity.

“This cruel, insulting and unconstitutional law targets is causing irreparable harm,” to transgender men and women, said North Carolina ACLU Legal Director Chris Brook.

Judge Thomas Schroeder repeatedly interrupted attorneys with questions.

Some of the toughest came for attorneys defending HB2 for the governor and Legislature.

“What was the problem that HB2 remedied? “ Schroeder said. “Why is it needed?”

State attorneys argued HB2 clarifies privacy policies that keep men and women out of restroom and locker facilities meant for the opposite sex.

Schroeder didn’t let up.

“Isn’t privacy already protected by laws for indecent exposure and peeping?” Schroeder asked. “Why aren’t those sufficient, or are they?”

“This is just an additional layer that reaffirms privacy,” an attorney representing the governor said.

“How does this law make facilities safer?”  Schroeder asked.

Later, Schroeder asked “how on Earth is this law supposed to work? So we’re now going to have men dressed like women using the men’s room?”

ACLU attorneys were also questioned vigorously by the judge as was an attorney representing the U.S. Justice Department, which is also suing the state over HB2.

“HB2 was passed with no problem existing simply to create problems for a targeted group of people, the transgender population,” ACLU attorney Paul Smith said.

The judge asked both sides if there was any record of problems with transgender men and women using bathrooms according to their gender identity before HB2, and both sides agreed there were not. “Then why have it?” Schroeder asked state attorneys.

“HB2 keeps men out of women’s bathrooms and locker rooms,” Tami Fitzgerald, with North Carolina Values Coalition and a prominent HB2 supporter, told reporters after the hearing. Those other laws don’t. They prosecute bad behavior in bathrooms.”

Fitzgerald said she still hopes the judge will deny the motion to temporarily block the state from enforcing HB2 until a full trial on the issue takes place in November.

Outside the courthouse, several transgender men and women who are part of the lawsuit said they were grateful for the hearing.

Joaquin Carcano, a transgender man, said he has been denied access to the men’s room at his job at UNC-Chapel Hill.

“We are glad today, allowed our voices to be heard, our stories to be shared and our distress and marginalization by this law to be given its proper due in court,” Carcano said.

The judge told attorneys he plans to make a ruling as soon as he can.

At the same time, he asked for additional documents to be filed by the end of the week. A timetable for a ruling remains unclear.

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