In Some States Motorists Can "Choose Life"
Special Report - January 31, 2008
Motorists in Missouri and Arizona will now have the option of purchasing specialty license plates containing the message “Choose Life” after two different federal court rulings this month. On January 23, a federal court ordered officials in Missouri to issue the “Choose Life” plates and ruled that a state law establishing an approval process for license plates is unconstitutional. “Pro-life organizations shouldn’t be penalized for expressing their beliefs,” said Joel Oster, Senior Legal Counsel for the Alliance Defense Fund (ADF), a Christian civil liberties organization that represented the plaintiffs in the case. “Unfortunately, that’s how Missouri officials unfairly discriminated when they denied Choose Life the right to exercise their free speech rights, and today the court agreed.”
The case, Choose Life v. Vincent, began after the state’s specialty license plate committee rejected an application from Choose Life of Missouri, while approving applications from a number of other groups, including an autism foundation and a military support group. Two senators on the committee objected to the pro-life message of the license plates, and under a 2004 state law, an application for a specialty plate can be denied if two state senators or five house members object, or if any member of the Joint Committee on Transportation Oversight objects. Choose Life of Missouri appealed the decision, but their application was rejected a second time. In June 2006, the ADF filed a lawsuit against the State Department of Revenue on behalf of the pro-life group. In the decision, U.S. District Judge Scott O. Wright wrote: “The statute does not provide the Joint Committee with specific standards or guidelines upon which to base their decisions and no explanation is required for a denial of one’s application. As a result, [the statute] is unconstitutionally vague and overbroad.”
In a similar case, Arizona Life Coalition v. Stanton, a three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled unanimously on January 29 that Arizona’s “Choose Life” plates are constitutional. In 2003, a coalition of pro-life groups represented by ADF and the Center for Arizona Policy filed a lawsuit against the state, after the specialty license plate commission denied its applications for a license plate. A district court upheld the commission’s decision in September 2005, and the pro-life coalition appealed the ruling to the federal appeals court. In his opinion, U.S. District Judge Richard C. Tallman wrote: “Because the Commission denied Life Coalition’s application on a ground not expressly related to the forum’s purpose by discriminating on the basis of the viewpoint contained in its proposed message, we conclude that the Commission acted in violation of the First Amendment.”
North Carolina Family Policy Council vice president and director of government relations, John Rustin reacted, “These rulings concerning the constitutionality of ‘Choose Life’ license plates in Missouri and Arizona should encourage lawmakers in North Carolina to enact the ‘Choose Life’ license plates legislation this year. Similar bills have been introduced for the past several sessions, and it is time for these bills to move forward. Pro-life citizens in North Carolina deserve the same opportunity to purchase a license plate that reflects their values and interests as do animal lovers, environmentalists, fans of NASCAR, square dancers, shag dancers, Harley-Davidson motorcycle owners, proponents of watermelon, and the dozens of other interests represented on North Carolina specialty license plates.”
Legislation authorizing the issuance of a specialty license plate with the “Choose Life” message was introduced in both the North Carolina House and Senate in 2007 and these bills remain eligible for consideration in 2008. HB 932Choose Life Special Registration Plate, sponsored by Rep. Mitch Gillespie (R-McDowell), and SB 897, sponsored by Sen. Andrew Brock (R-Davie), would direct a portion of the fee for the plates to crisis pregnancy centers throughout the state. Both bills also specify that the funds from the license plates “may not be distributed to any agency that is involved or associated with abortion activities, including counseling for or referrals to abortion clinics, providing medical abortion related procedures, or pro-abortion advertising, and these funds may not be distributed to any agency that charges women for services received."
Copyright © 2008. North Carolina Family Policy Council. All rights reserved.