A federal judge ruled Friday that two transgender students at University of North Carolina may use the bathrooms that match their gender identity, thus dealing a substantial blow to the state's controversial "bathroom bill." U.S. District Court Judge Thomas Schroeder issued a temporary injunction against the portion of the law that prohibits trans people from using public restrooms that don't correspond with their biological gender; Schroeder ruled that the prohibition was "inconsistent" with the Obama Administration's interpretation of Title IX, the component of the 1964 Civil Rights Act that bans gender discrimination in publicly-funded facilities.
The Department of Justice and the American Civil Liberties Union had sued the state on behalf of two trans students students and one trans employee of the school, arguing that HB 2's requirements amounted to gender discrimination under the Civil Rights Act. The injunction that Schroeder issued Friday was narrow: It only applies to the three individuals in question. He won't issue a final ruling on the case until after a full trial — though he said that he expects the case against North Carolina to succeed on its merits as well.
Schroeder's basic argument was twofold. He determined that the bathroom statute violated the Civil Rights Act, but also, that trans students were already using the bathrooms of their choice "without public awareness or incident" before HB 2 was passed.
“Ultimately, the record reflects what counsel for Governor [Pat] McCrory candidly speculates was the status quo ante in North Carolina in recent years: some transgender individuals have been quietly using bathrooms and other facilities that match their gender identity, without public awareness or incident," wrote Schroeder, who was appointed by George W. Bush. "This injunction returns the parties to the status quo ante as it existed in Title IX facilities prior to Part I [of HB 2]’s passage in March 2016.”
North Carolina's legislature passed HB 2 in March and Gov. Pat McCrory signed it into law. This prompted the DOJ to send a letter to McCrory and several state institutions, including UNC, saying that the law violated the Civil Rights Act and demanding that it not be enforced. McCrory responded by suing the Obama administration, which promptly turned around and sued North Carolina.
That's the lawsuit that resulted in this most recent injunction, which is temporary. A full ruling on the merits is expected after a trial in November.