Federal Judge Temporarily Blocks N.C. 'Choose Life' License Plates
November 29, 2011 — U.S. District Judge James Fox on Monday granted a preliminary injunction preventing North Carolina's Department of Motor Vehicles from issuing license plates with the message "Choose Life," the AP/Winston-Salem Journal reports (AP/Winston-Salem Journal, 11/29).
The state General Assembly last session approved the Choose Life plates but rejected proposals for plates with messages supporting abortion rights. For each plate sold, $15 goes 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, 9/9).
Kathleen Parker, state ACLU director said, "The state should not be allowed to use its authority to promote one side of a debate while denying the same opportunity to the other side." She added, "We look forward to continuing our arguments in this case and hope the court agrees that the First Amendment prohibits the blatant type of viewpoint discrimination the state has proposed through this one-sided license plate scheme."
A spokesperson for the North Carolina attorney general declined to comment because of the ongoing litigation.
Twenty-nine states have issued or approved Choose Life license plates. The plates have a mixed record in the courts, with some judges ruling in their favor and others siding with challengers who contend that the plates are unconstitutional.
For example, in 2004, the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a lower court ruling that South Carolina's Choose Life plates were unconstitutional because they provided a forum for expressing certain beliefs without offering the opposing side an opportunity to do the same (AP/Winston-Salem Journal, 11/29). The U.S. Supreme Court has declined to hear appeals of several similar cases (Women's Health Policy Report, 10/6/09).