North Carolina loo wars
US Department of Justice has now weighed in on North Carolina toilets wars over transgender rights. Reuters

The US Department of Justice has informed North Carolina that the state's law allowing discrimination against the LGBT community and restricting toilet choice by transgender people violates the federal Civil Rights Act. Federal authorities have given state officials until 9 May to remedy the situation.

They have until then to respond "by confirming that the State will not comply with or implement" House Bill 2, reports the Charlotte Observer. The warning came in a letter from the Department of Justice to state Governor Pat McCrory.

North Carolina's law essentially made discrimination against the LGBT community legal in the state by pointedly not mentioning lesbians, gays and bisexual and transgendered individuals as people protected from discrimination in the workplace or as consumers. The law was passed to pre-empt a recent anti-discrimination statute by the city of Charlotte that, among other things, briefly allowed transgender people to use the public restrooms of their choice.

But the state law cannot stand because it is illegal under federal law, the Department of Justice has now warned. Not only does it violate the federal Civil Rights Act, which bans employment discrimination, it also violates Title IX which bars all sexual discrimination in education. If the state legislature refuses to change its stance on the issue, it would jeopardise billions of dollars in federal funds for education in North Carolina.

State Republicans have slammed the warning as "overreach" by President Barack Obama. Governor McCrory also called the letter in a speech to business leaders "Washington overreach like we've never seen in our lifetime," the Observer reported.

"The right and expectation of privacy in one of the most private areas of our personal lives is now in jeopardy," he said in a statement. "We will be reviewing to determine the next steps."

Opponents of the law hailed the move. Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign, praised the Justice Department "for enforcing the rule of law and protecting the rights of North Carolinians."

The state law unleashed a storm of controversy and triggered North Carolina boycotts by businesses and performers such as Bruce Springsteen. The American Civil Liberties quickly filed a suit against the statute.

The state's Democratic Attorney General Roy Cooper has said he will not defend the law in court because it is unconstitutional and "a national embarrassment."