RALEIGH, N.C. — North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory says Attorney General Roy Cooper used a flawed legal argument in deciding not to defend a new law that limits how local governments can pass rules designed to protect LGBT citizens.
McCrory released a video late Tuesday that also explained further his decision to sign the law, now being criticized by dozens of corporate CEOs and the subject of a federal lawsuit.
Cooper said earlier Tuesday he wouldn't defend the law largely because it conflicts with anti-discrimination policies in his office and in another state department. The governor says the law didn't change the attorney general's internal policies and "is inventing conflict that simply doesn't exist." He urged Cooper to reconsider his decision.
McCrory says while the bill wasn't perfect, it provided privacy protections in public restrooms and locker rooms that people expect.
Cooper said Tuesday he won't defend in court a new state law preventing Charlotte and other local governments from approving protections for LGBT people, calling it discriminatory and a "national embarrassment."
Cooper made the announcement during a news conference a day after gay rights advocates sued to overturn the law approved last week and signed by Republican Gov. Pat McCrory.
The federal lawsuit lists Cooper among the defendants because of his official position as the state's top lawyer. But he has said he wants it repealed.
"We know that businesses here and all over the country have taken a strong stance in opposition to this law," Cooper said.
On Tuesday night, Bank of America tweeted that they had joined the growing number of companies calling for the repeal of HB2.
The head of the Charlotte Area Hotel Association said he isn't concerned about how Charlotte is being viewed and was holding a meeting Wednesday with area hotel managers to discuss the backlash to House Bill 2.
McCrory is also a defendant in the lawsuit and has doubled down on justifying his decision to sign the law, even as many corporations have criticized it publicly.
Cooper's announcement raises the stakes for the November governor's race, in which Cooper is challenging McCrory. National Democrats consider it their best opportunity to pick up a governor's mansion where a Republican currently resides. The campaigns of McCrory and Cooper already have raised more than $13 million combined and the Republican Governors Association has reserved $4 million in ad time for the fall.
Tuesday afternoon, McCrory released a video statement regarding the law.
"North Carolina has been the focus of a vicious nationwide smear campaign disregarding the facts," he said. "Other politicians from the White House to mayors to state capitols and city council members even our attorney general have initiated and promoted conflict to advance their political agenda."
The Republican-led legislature and McCrory approved the law because they say Charlotte went too far with a local ordinance allowing transgender people to use the restroom aligned with their gender identity. They have focused on the threat — used by opponents of Houston's LGBT ordinance last year while defeating it in a referendum — that sexual predators could use these kinds of rules as a pretense to enter women's bathrooms and locker rooms. Gay rights groups have called these and other arguments bogus.
The law also directs North Carolina's public schools, public universities and government agencies to require bathrooms or locker rooms be designated for use only by people based on their biological sex. They can offer single-occupancy facilities.
Cooper's decision continues a yearslong tussle between him and Republican leaders in state government, who say they don't trust the attorney general to robustly defend state laws challenged in court.
Cooper, the attorney general since 2001, has expressed his personal opposition to a law that placed new restrictions on voting, including a photo identification mandate to vote in person. But he has said it was his duty for the state to be represented in a professional manner in pending litigation challenging the voting changes. Legislative leaders and McCrory, however, have hired outside counsel to sit beside the state attorney in this and other cases.
Following Cooper’s announcement, Senate Leader Phil Berger responded that he should resign since he won’t defend state law and protect children’s safety.
“Roy Cooper’s refusal to defend the law makes clear he wants the ACLU to win by default in federal court what they can’t win at the ballot box and allow men to walk into locker rooms at YMCAs across our country and undress in front of young girls,” said Berger. “His zeal for pandering for the extreme left’s money and agenda in his race for governor is making it impossible for him to fulfill his duties as attorney general – and he should resign immediately.”
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