July 1, 2015 — The Supreme Court on Monday ordered the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to reassess its 2014 decision that barred North Carolina from issuing "Choose Life" license plates without also offering plates featuring messages in support of abortion rights, AP/U-T San Diego reports (AP/U-T San Diego, 6/29).
In 2011, state lawmakers approved the antiabortion-rights plates but rejected proposals for plates with messages backing abortion rights. For each "Choose Life" plate sold, $15 would go to not-for-profit crisis pregnancy centers that oppose abortion rights. However, the state never manufactured any of the plates because of the legal dispute (Women's Health Policy Report, 7/16/14).
The American Civil Liberties Union filed suit over the plates (Burns, WRAL News, 6/29). In February 2014, the 4th Circuit agreed with a lower court ruling that it is unconstitutional for North Carolina to offer antiabortion-rights license plates because the state does not also offer plates that support abortion rights.
Although North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper (D) defended the law in federal court, he declined to appeal the 4th Circuit ruling. In an email to then-North Carolina House Speaker Thom Tillis (R) and state Senate Majority Leader Phil Berger (R) last April, Chief Deputy Attorney General Grayson Kelley urged the lawmakers not to pursue further appeals. Instead, Kelley asked Tillis and Berger to draft new legislation "as an efficient way to resolve the issues."
However, in July 2014, state legislators who oppose abortion rights petitioned the Supreme Court to review the 4th Circuit ruling (Women's Health Policy Report, 7/16/14).
Order Details, Implications
According to WRAL News, the Supreme Court ordered the 4th Circuit to review its decision in light of another recent ruling from the high court concerning Texas license plates (WRAL News, 6/29).
In that case, the justices ruled in a 5-4 decision that Texas can refuse to issue license plates with the Confederate flag, on the basis that plates are government property and do not have to offer opposing viewpoints (AP/U-T San Diego, 6/29).
Chris Brook, legal director for ACLU of North Carolina, said, "The court's decision [in the North Carolina case] could allow states to censor private speech and discriminate against citizens who hold views that are different from the government's. The General Assembly should do the right thing and allow citizens on both sides of the debate to purchase specialty plates supporting their views" (WRAL News, 6/29).