RALEIGH, N.C. -- The University of North Carolina system told a federal court Friday that it won't enforce a law requiring transgender students to use restrooms corresponding to the sex on their birth certificates.
The declaration came in a motion asking a federal court to halt civil legal proceedings against the university system while a higher court decides a separate case on transgender rights from Virginia.
University system President Margaret Spellings wrote in an affidavit that, pending the outcome of the North Carolina case: "I have no intent to exercise my authority to promulgate any guidelines or regulations that require transgender students to use the restrooms consistent with their biological sex."
The university system's lawyers went further, noting in a filing that the state law contains no enforcement mechanism and the university system also hasn't "changed any of its policies or practices regarding transgender students or employees."
"There is nothing in the Act that prevents any transgender person from using the restroom consistent with his or her gender identity," the lawyers wrote.
They ask the federal judge to halt proceedings against the university system pending the outcome of a case on transgender rights being heard by the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals in Virginia as well as a separate case by the federal Department of Justice against North Carolina.
Five dueling cases over the law are pending in federal courts in North Carolina.
The UNC System had been named as a defendant along with Gov. Pat McCrory in a case filed on behalf of plaintiffs including students and university employees. Plaintiffs say the law requiring them to use restrooms matching the sex on their birth certificate is discriminatory.
Separately, a three-judge panel of the Virginia appeals court gave a favorable ruling to a transgender student seeking to use high school restrooms in line with his gender identity. The Virginia school board he sued has asked for a new hearing before the full appeals court. That case hinges on a federal antidiscrimination law that's also central to the North Carolina cases.
The North Carolina law enacted in March requires transgender people to use restrooms corresponding with the sex on their birth certificate in public schools, universities and many other public buildings. It also excludes gender identity and sexual orientation from statewide antidiscrimination protections.
In a recent letter, McCrory asked Congress to clarify U.S. Civil Rights Act protections. The May 18 letter to U.S. House and Senate leaders asks them to act in light of Justice Department and Education Department instructions stating the federal law's protections apply to sexual orientation and gender identity. McCrory disagrees.
Friday's filings go a step further than previous statements by Spellings, who had lamented in a May 9 letter to the Justice Department that the system was "in a difficult position" caught between state and federal laws.
"Spellings is just being whipsawed," said Carl Tobias, a law professor at the University of Richmond. "She's in a tough spot, as is the system. They're trying to do the best they can by their different constituencies."
He said the request for a stay was sensible considering that the outcome of the Virginia case will likely dictate how the federal judges decide the North Carolina lawsuits.
"The district judges in North Carolina are probably not going to do anything other than what the 4th Circuit says," he said.