Stenehjem plans transgender bathroom lawsuit, criticizes Burgum for 'nothing but talk'

North Dakota Republican Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem said Friday morning he will file a lawsuit against the federal government over transgender bathroom policies.

ND Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem
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North Dakota Republican Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem said Friday morning he will file a lawsuit against the federal government over transgender bathroom policies.

Stenehjem said he is working to bring together a “coalition” of attorneys general to file a lawsuit next week in the Eighth Circuit of the U.S. Court of Appeals, which includes North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota, Nebraska, Iowa, Missouri and Arkansas. Officials from 11 states, led by Texas, took legal action this week over the Obama administration directing public schools to allow transgender students to use the bathroom that aligns with their gender identities.

Stenehjem said the lawsuit he’s bringing is “basically the same” as the one brought by the other states.

“We like the prospect of bringing this in our circuit,” he said. Stenehjem said it may be filed in North Dakota or possibly Nebraska.
Stenehjem, who is also running for governor this year, said “these issues need to be handled as they have been for a long time -- on the local level.” He said a “federal one-size-fits-all” approach is improper.

Stenehjem said the lawsuit he’s joining will argue the Obama administration overstepping its constitutional authority. He added issuing the instruction as “guidance” is a “tricky way” of getting around the rulemaking process, which requires public comment.


'Taking action'

Stenehjem’s opponent in the June 14 primary election for governor, Fargo businessman Doug Burgum , criticized the attorney general Thursday for not joining the 11 states in their lawsuit. Stenehjem said Friday he “knows what the legal prospects are, and we’ve been working on this for a long time.”

“He’s done nothing but talk, I’m taking action,” Stenehjem added.

On Friday, Burgum said he was happy to see Stenehjem take action. He said it was “shocking” the federal government was taking time to try to be the “national bathroom police.”

“I think he and I both agree that a lot of that federal overreach is bad for North Dakota,” Burgum said. “We want to have a society that’s tolerant, respectful and inclusive -- we want to have that. But I believe that we can build that on our own with local decision makers.”

Asked whether he personally believes transgender people should be able to use the bathroom that aligns with their gender identity, Burgum reiterated his position that the decisions should be made locally.

Kylie Oversen, chairwoman of the North Dakota Democratic-NPL Party, said it was “disappointing to see Stenehjem’s response to this directive.”

“Whether it’s at the workplace, in housing, the voting booth, or public spaces, discrimination in all forms is flat out wrong,” she said in an email.


State Rep. Marvin Nelson, the Democratic candidate for North Dakota governor, was also critical of Stenehjem’s decision. He said transgender people are probably the least likely to want to “create an issue in the bathroom.”

“I don’t know why the state of North Dakota would be spending money on this lawsuit,” Nelson said, adding other states have already taken legal action.


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