December 11, 2012 — A federal judge on Friday ruled that it is unconstitutional for North Carolina to offer license plates with the message "Choose Life" without also offering plates that support abortion rights, Reuters/Huffington Post reports (Jenkins, Reuters/Huffington Post, 12/10).
The state General Assembly last year approved the Choose Life plates but rejected proposals for plates with messages supporting abortion rights. For each plate sold, $15 would go to not-for-profit crisis pregnancy centers that oppose abortion.
The American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina sued to block the plates, arguing that they violate the First Amendment because there is no specialty license plate promoting abortion rights. The group suggested the state adopt a new plate that says either "Trust Women. Respect Choice" or "Respect Choice" (Women's Health Policy Report, 11/29/11). The state never manufactured any "Choose Life" plates because of the legal dispute (Waggoner, AP/NECN, 12/10).
Senior U.S. District Judge James Fox said the lack of a plate supporting abortion rights constitutes "viewpoint discrimination in violation of the First Amendment" (Reuters/Huffington Post, 12/10).
While government speech isn't subject to First Amendment scrutiny, Fox ruled that the plates are "a government-sponsored avenue to encourage private speech" (AP/NECN, 12/10).
More than two dozen states offer "Choose Life" license plates, according to the Guttmacher Institute.
Chris Brook, legal director of the ACLU's North Carolina Legal Foundation, said, "The government cannot create an avenue of expression for one side of a contentious political issue while denying an equal opportunity to citizens with the opposite view" (Reuters/Huffington Post, 12/10).
The bill's sponsor, state Rep. Mitch Gillespie (R), on Monday said he will ask North Carolina's attorney general to appeal the decision. "As long as I am in the General Assembly, my goal will be to get that passed," Gillespie said, adding that he will offer a proposal next year that he believes will allow the state to keep the plates (AP/NECN, 12/10).