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Will N.C. override of LGBT anti-discrimination laws hold up to federal scrutiny?

Civil rights organizations will announce on Monday in Raleigh that they have filed federal litigation to challenge a North Carolina law revoking local legislation aimed at protecting LGBT rights.

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People protest outside the North Carolina Executive Mansion in Raleigh, N.C., Thursday. 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.

Emery P. Dalesio/AP

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Civil rights advocates in North Carolina say they will fight the state's new law preventing Charlotte and other local communities from passing rules aimed at stopping LGBT discrimination.

The American Civil Liberties Union, Lambda Legal, and Equality North Carolina are expected to announce on Monday in Raleigh that they filed federal litigation to challenge the law, which was approved last week by the state legislature and signed by Republican Gov. Pat McCrory.

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Republican lawmakers in North Carolina this past Wednesday convened a special session to strike down an anti-discrimination ordinance passed by Charlotte, the state’s largest city, to protect transgender people who use public restrooms based on their gender identity and to protect gay or transgender people from being fired for their sexual orientation or gender identity. The ordinance was due to go into effect on April 1.

According to Republican legislators, the bill was passed to not only to protect women and children from “unwanted and potentially dangerous intrusions by biological males,” as The New York Times reported, but also as a way for the state to assert its legislative authority.

State Rep. Dan Bishop, the Republican bill sponsor, described Charlotte’s move to enact an anti-discrimination measure as an “egregious overreach.”

“What we are doing is preserving a sense of privacy people have long expected,” Representative Bishop said on the House floor last week.

The new state law is the most aggressive response yet to the expansion of gender rights, as The Christian Science Monitor reported last week. The motion to overrule the local ordinance was introduced, passed, and signed into law in a single day, with Senate Democrats walking out during the vote in protest.

"We choose not to participate in this farce," Senate Minority Leader Dan Blue of Raleigh said after he left the chamber.

The new state law overrides local ordinances aimed at curbing discrimination of transgender people and instead requires them to use bathrooms that correspond to the gender on their birth certificates.

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The new law also preempts local minimum wage hikes.

Other conservative-run states such as Tennessee, Arkansas, and Indiana also have blocked local attempts to pass anti-discrimination rules on behalf of LGBT residents.  

“North Carolina's passage of a law to prevent localities from enacting local anti-discrimination laws is part of a trend in conservative states to block these democratic initiatives,” civil rights attorney Tom Spiggle told U.S. News and World Report on Thursday.  

Many states are governed by a constitutional principle called the “Dillon Rule,” which is based on a Supreme Court ruling that puts power in state governments rather than local authorities, unless there are explicit “home rule” provisions in state law. Nearly 40 states, including North Carolina, are governed by this rule, giving state authorities absolute power.

This report contains material from the Associated Press.


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