In the past month, North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory dug himself a very deep political hole and then crawled into it when he, with an unhelpful assist from his state legislature, sought to defend a new law about transgender people and their access to bathrooms. It was, as I wrote earlier this week, an astonishingly foolish decision for a man running for re-election. Whatever the merits of North Carolina’s position on the law or the issue, volunteering to be the man to stand in the bathroom door is pretty much the definition of political stupidity. Casting himself in such a role in what appeared to be an escalation of a new battle in the culture wars over gender and sexual identity was embarrassing.

But if it was ridiculous for a state government to start involving itself in the question of who should or should not be admitted to particular bathrooms, how crazy is it for this to become something of a national priority for the federal government?

That’s the question we have to ask today after word spread that a letter signed by officials from both the Department of Justice and the Department of Education to every public school district in the nation directing them to allow transgender students to choose what bathroom they wish to use and tacitly threatening all of them with legal action and perhaps loss of federal aid if they do something to thwart the will of the Obama administration.

Regardless of how one might feel about the issue, this is an example of federal overreach on an Olympian scale. The Justice and Education departments are not acting to carry out the orders of a court or to implement any law passed by Congress. Indeed, there are no such orders or legislation for them to enforce. Instead, they are choosing to interpret Title IX of the 1972 Education Amendments to the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964 in a creative fashion unsanctioned by any authority but their own.

If Congress had chosen to amend Title IX in this fashion it would be the duty of both departments to enforce the law in that fashion. If the federal courts were to decide that, against all the evidence, that it was the intention of the framers of a measure or the clear meaning of a law that is best known for mandating equal access to scholastic sports for girls and women, to apply to transgendered people and bathrooms, that, too, would be legal. But while perhaps we should have grown used to this sort of thing from a president who believes he has the right to enact and then enforce laws that Congress has specifically chosen not to pass, today’s letter is still an act that betrays a contempt for the rule of law that is breathtaking in its scope and dimension.

Let’s agree that any acts of discrimination or abuse that might be involved in the treatment of transgender students would be abhorrent. It is easy to sympathize with some of the sentiments about discrimination articulated by Attorney General Loretta Lynch when she was discussing the conflict with North Carolina. But it is another thing for government to threaten to use its awesome power to intimidate local officials in every state, county and town in the country to enforce non-existent guidelines on an issue that has never been adjudicated or legislated on the federal level.

The only possible result of this sort of grandstanding by the administration is legal chaos. School districts are being asked to deal with an issue that is relatively new on the national agenda. Indeed, up until the North Carolina brouhaha, it is something that, however serious to those involved, had not been subject to the sort of discussion and debate that might make it intelligible to ordinary Americans who are now wondering why the federal government is issuing complicated and confusing orders to schools about the use of bathrooms or other facilities.

It may well be that the majority of Americans will ultimately agree with the administration if, like the once highly charged but now almost uncontroversial notion of gay marriage, if it is the subject of debate, legislation, and litigation. But while it was easy to see why a majority in a recent poll opposed a North Carolina law that was framed in a manner that made it seem, as Lynch claimed, “mean-spirited,” I highly doubt there is anything like a majority to be found in favor of a sweeping federal mandate demanding transgender bathroom access across the nation. To the contrary, it is almost certain that most Americans don’t want the federal government imposing such mandates on local school districts, especially when such rules are untethered to any legislation or court rulings on the subject.

Though McCrory and the GOP-majority in the North Carolina legislature that began this confusing debate have no reason to be proud of themselves, this latest action by the administration almost makes their decisions look reasonable. An issue that raises difficult and complex issues about privacy and the rights of all students may be capable of resolution given a commitment by reasonable people to be fair to all involved. But the imposition of a confusing federal mandate that has been issued on what must be considered a legal whim or wish rather than to enforce an actual law is bound to make peaceful accommodations on a local level far less likely, if not completely impossible.

It is a certainty this rule will be challenged by local or state authorities, and unless the next Congress passes a law backing up the letter, it is likely to be overruled by the courts, as many examples of Obama administration imperial overreach have been. But before that happens the government will once again prove that it is usually more of a problem than a solution to perplexing issues. Rather than enforce the law, the administration has once again tried to make law. Whether or not you like the impact of this ruling, everyone, be they liberal or conservative, ought to worry about a process that substitutes the whims of any administration for law and due process.

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