Federal judge grills GOP lawyers over need for bathroom law

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. (AP) — A federal judge lobbed tough questions at GOP lawyers Monday as he considered whether to block a North Carolina legal measure governing transgender bathroom access, asking pointedly how the law was making people safer.

U.S. District Judge Thomas Schroeder heard oral arguments on transgender plaintiff’s request for a preliminary injunction blocking parts of the law that limits protections for LGBT people, but said he’d issue a ruling later.

His request for more written briefs indicated a decision was at least days away.

“How does this law make bathrooms and changing rooms safer in North Carolina?” the judge asked Butch Bowers, an attorney for Republican Gov. Pat McCrory, a defendant in legal challenges to the law.

The state’s Republican leaders argue the law is needed to protect privacy and safety by keeping men out of women’s restrooms. Transgender residents challenging the law argue that it’s a solution in search of a problem.

The law requires transgender people to use restrooms in schools and many public buildings that correspond to the sex on their birth certificates, rather than their gender identity. It also excludes gender identity and sexual orientation from statewide antidiscrimination protections. Trial is scheduled for November.

Schroeder, known for his thoroughness, grilled both sides about the premises underpinning their arguments, but his most pointed questions came when Bowers stood to address the court.

Schroeder asked Bowers why existing trespassing, voyeurism and indecent exposure laws aren’t sufficient to protect restroom privacy.

Bowers said some traffic laws are redundant, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t needed. Then he said society has long favored separate restrooms for men and women, adding: “HB2 simply amplifies that.”

The judge then asked how a transgender woman who had been born as a male could offend others in a women’s restroom that had separate stalls and no urinals.

“I’m at a loss as to the circumstances unless someone strips down naked,” he said.

He then asked if it would be better for such a transgender woman to walk into a men’s room dressed in female attire.

“How on earth is that supposed to work? So we are now going to have people dressed as women using the men’s room?” he said.

Bowers responded: “My guess is that some transgender people will use restrooms they always have and no one will notice.”

The U.S. Justice Department and the American Civil Liberties Union, which represents the transgender plaintiffs, argued for a preliminary injunction to block the restroom provision of the law known as House Bill 2. Defending HB2 are McCrory, state legislative leaders and a citizens’ group.

Two cases challenging the law and two seeking to defend it were assigned to Schroeder, while a fifth case is pending in a separate federal court.

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