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Video: Attorney General’s incredible speech on trans rights

“That sort of acknowledgment and validation is huge when the other side is saying: ‘you’re nobody. You’re making all this up,'” he said.

The rhetoric was perhaps fitting given what’s at stake — billions of dollars in aid for North Carolina are up in the air, and there’s the potential for a landmark decision regarding the reach of the nation’s civil rights laws.

A judge could begin hearing arguments in the competing cases within weeks as North Carolina seeks to stop the government from temporarily blocking the law or stripping away funding, said Rina Lindevaldsen, a Liberty University law professor specializing in family and constitutional law.

“This seems like the kind of thing that’s on track for the Supreme Court,” she said.

The measure took effect in March, passed in reaction to a Charlotte ordinance allowing transgender people to use the bathroom that corresponds to their gender identity.

Since then, the state’s been riven by business cancellations and boycotts from stars such as Bruce Springsteen and Pearl Jam. Contentious debate about the law has divided not only state residents but also public officials; state attorney general Roy Cooper, a Democrat running against McCrory for governor, has refused to defend it.

The Justice Department last week gave McCrory until Monday to say he would refuse to enforce the law. Instead, he doubled down by suing the federal government for a “baseless and blatant overreach” and later criticized Lynch for language he said was divisive.

“This is not a North Carolina issue. It is now a national issue,” said McCrory, a Republican up for re-election in November.

Monday’s actions carry immediate practical impact, moving the debate into the courtroom and putting on notice other states that in recent months have proposed similar laws limiting protections for gay, bisexual and transgender people.

In addition, the U.S. Education Department and other federal agencies could ultimately try to cut off money to North Carolina to force compliance.

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