Republicans seek to combine North Carolina LGBT lawsuits

Scholars say case combination issue is likely to ultimately be heard by U.S. Supreme Court

By Jonathan Drew
Associated Press

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — North Carolina’s Republican leaders are seeking to combine separate lawsuits over a state law limiting protections for the LGBT community — moves that could help steer the cases to a judge who twice ruled against the federal government in recent years.

Three federal judges are currently assigned to five dueling lawsuits over the law, which requires transgender people to use bathrooms corresponding to the sex on their birth certificates in many public buildings. The law also excludes gender identity and sexual orientation from statewide antidiscrimination protections.

Senate leader Phil Berger and House Speaker Tim Moore asked on Monday to combine their case with a similar lawsuit filed by Gov. Pat McCrory against the federal government. State leaders say the Justice Department has overreached in its arguments that the North Carolina legislation violates federal anti-discrimination laws.

Their move follows McCrory’s separate request last week to move his lawsuit to another federal court so it can be combined or heard in conjunction with lawsuits filed by the Department of Justice and the American Civil Liberties Union.

McCrory’s lawyers wrote last week that the federal government is unopposed to the request that “would greatly enhance efficiency ... while avoiding piecemeal litigation.”

The lawsuits supporting the state law were filed in a federal court in the eastern part of the state, while the challenges to the law are in a separate district to the west.

Legal experts have said federal judges have wide leeway in deciding whether to combine cases — especially within the same federal district — and that they typically give deference to the wishes of the plaintiffs in a given case. Scholars say the issue is likely to ultimately be heard by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Berger and Moore argued Monday that their request to combine with the McCrory’s lawsuit should be heard before a decision is made on whether to send the governor’s case west. The court agreed to consider the motions in that order.

The judge assigned to the Justice Department and ACLU lawsuits, U.S. District Judge Thomas Schroeder, is a Republican appointee who twice sided with local or state officials against the Justice Department in recent years. The judge based in Winston-Salem notably rejected the federal government’s arguments in a North Carolina voter ID case in April.