The federal government is not the boss of bathrooms.
By now, most Americans have heard about North Carolina House Bill 2. The new law has dominated the media landscape for several weeks, but only in the past few days has the real issue come into focus.
In almost every article, news report, and blog post covering the new law, the officially named “Public Facilities Privacy and Security Act” is referred to as North Carolina’s “controversial bathroom bill.”
Let me assure you that, among everyday North Carolinians, there is no controversy. Recent Civitas Institute polling indicates most people are aware of the law (85 percent) and an overwhelming majority (69 percent) believe that the Charlotte City Council ordinance HB2 overturned was unreasonable and unsafe. The media have sparked a firestorm and fed the flames with stories about bathroom assaults against transgendered individuals and about tearful students claiming oppression, but only a handful of politicians and public policy organizations give the law even a second thought. Yet despite such widespread public support of HB2, groups such as the Human Rights Campaign and North Carolina’s Attorney General, Roy Cooper, have successfully pressured multi-national corporations and the federal government to try to coerce, shame, and bully North Carolina into repealing the bill.
All that aside, as of May 3, some high-minded libertarians and centrist Republicans bemoaning the prolonged discussion of something as banal as where people can relieve themselves and change clothes were able to breathe their own sighs of relief.
The moment Loretta Lynch threatened to withhold Title VII and Title IX funding from North Carolina unless Gov. Pat McCrory and the legislature agreed to cry “uncle” and publicly declare that HB2 is discriminatory, the discussion ceased to be about bathrooms.
We now find ourselves not in a debate about bathrooms but in one about the relationship between the federal government and the states.
The question is: How far are McCrory and legislators willing to go to stand up for North Carolina’s sovereignty? How hard are they willing to fight in order to maintain control over a state-level question with a state-level answer? Transgender rights are not mentioned even in the “emanations of the penumbra” of the U.S. Constitution and are thus left to the states, the laboratories of democracy, to decide.
The hitch is that North Carolina depends on the federal government for nearly <em>half</em> of its annual budget. The $22 billion sum that the feds are threatening is part of an overall state budget closer to $55 billion. This new threat just brings to the forefront a danger that has always lurked in money Washington sends to the states.
Every dollar North Carolina receives from the federal government comes with strings attached. We’ll leave the cost of compliance aside for the time being, but the policy outcomes of accepting federal grants can be devastating. To pick just one example, in 2009, when North Carolina was flat on its back during the recession, bureaucrats in the NC Department of Public Instruction accepted $400 million in federal Race to the Top Grants. The stipulation for accepting the grants, however, was that North Carolina must implement the Common Core curriculum. The results have been disastrous.
The results of backing down from this fight would also be disastrous. This time, however, the physical safety and emotional comfort of vulnerable people is at stake.
Loretta Lynch has perpetrated an unadulterated abuse of federal power, pure and simple. Now it’s time for North Carolina to stand up and defend our sovereignty and protect women and children.