N.C. Attorney General Cooper says his office will not defend state in lawsuit

North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper speaks during a news conference on Tuesday, March 29, 2016, in Raleigh, North Carolina. Cooper addressed the media in response to the passing of House Bill 2 last week during a legislative special session. (Kevin Martin/North State Journal)
North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper speaks during a news conference on Tuesday, March 29, 2016, in Raleigh, North Carolina. Cooper addressed the media in response to the passing of House Bill 2 last week during a legislative special session. (Kevin Martin/North State Journal)

North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper speaks during a news conference on Tuesday, March 29, 2016, in Raleigh, N.C.(Kevin Martin/North State Journal)

RALEIGH – North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper held a press conference in the N.C. Department of Justice office Monday morning, making it clear that his office will not represent the state in yesterday’s lawsuit from the ACLU and others regarding the constitutionality of the controversial House Bill 2 that was signed into law by Gov. Pat McCrory last week.

While the “duty to defend,” or representing the state in such cases, is a core part of the Attorney General’s oath of office, Cooper said his office’s own non-discrimination policies are stripped by HB2 and he will therefore not defend the new bill.

“The reason is this: since 2001, my office has had its own non-discrimination policy that includes, along with other protections, marital status and sexual orientation,” Cooper said. “Two classes not protected by the state. I believed in 2001, when we adopted it, and I believe now, that our policy is not only the right thing to do but it sends a necessary and vital signal as we recruit and retain the very best and brightest employees here at the Department of Justice. Many of the top law firms in our state provide these protections, as well, and we needed to to compete. I made a promise. Employees who get the job done here should be welcome without fear of discrimination. House Bill 2 is in direct conflict with our policy here at the North Carolina Department of Justice.”

Cooper says the North Carolina State Treasurer’s office, led by fellow-Democrat Janet Cowell, has also asked his office to defend their own internal non-discrimination policies, which Cooper said are very similar to the DOJ’s.  In 2013, When Cooper refused to defend the Defense of Marriage Act passed by the state legislature and the constitutional amendment N.C. voters passed in a statewide referendum, the government reportedly spent more than $100,000 on hiring outside legal counsel.

North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper speaks during a news conference on Tuesday, March 29, 2016, in Raleigh, North Carolina. Cooper addressed the media in response to the passing of House Bill 2 last week during a legislative special session. (Kevin Martin/North State Journal)

North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper speaks during a news conference on Tuesday, March 29, 2016, in Raleigh, North Carolina. Cooper addressed the media in response to the passing of House Bill 2 last week during a legislative special session. (Kevin Martin/North State Journal)

“Now of course the defendants in these lawsuits deserve a defense,” Cooper said. “The University [of North Carolina] and the Board of Governors have hired outside attorneys in the past and we will encourage them to do so here. In addition, the governor has not hesitated to hire his own attorneys and we would assume he would want to do that again in this case. Furthermore, the legislature has passed a law granting legislative leaders the authority to hire outside counsel and intervene in these kinds of cases.”

While Cooper says it is unclear how the litigation process will play out from this point, he said the governor should repeal HB2.

“But the fact is we shouldn’t have to be dealing with these lawsuits in the first place,” Cooper said. “This shameful, new law has brought them upon us. Discrimination is wrong. Period. The governor and the legislature should repeal this law. Repeal will save needless litigation costs and will begin to repair our national reputation. Every day working people are already struggling in North Carolina’s economy and this law will hurt them even more. Swift action is required to keep our state and our citizens from losing money.”