North Carolina’s ‘choose life’ license plates unconstitutional: Appeals court
RICHMOND, VA, February 11, 2014 (LifeSiteNews.com) – North Carolina's “Choose Life” license plates have been ruled unconstitutional by a U.S. Appeals Court today.
A three-judge panel of the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a lower court ruling that such license plates violate the First Amendment, because the state does not also give residents the chance to purchase a license plate with a pro-abortion message.
The bill authorizing the pro-life plates, H.R. 854, became law in September 2011 after legislators voted down six amendments to offer competing plates bearing messages like “Respect Choice.”
But the law never went into effect, because the American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit.
U.S. District Judge James C. Fox granted a temporary injunction against the plates in November 2011 and finally ruled the plates were unconstitutional in December 2012. Offering only one opinion constituted “viewpoint discrimination,” he ruled.
The Fourth Circuit upheld Fox's views in a unanimous 3-0 opinion, written by Judge James Wynn. North Carolina attempted to legally “privilege speech on one side of the hotly debated issue,” Wynn wrote, “while silencing opposing voices,” something he said ranked as “chief amongst the evils the First Amendment prohibits.” Wynn was appointed to the appeals court by President Barack Obama in 2009. He was originally nominated for a seat on the court in 1999 by President Bill Clinton, but the nomination stalled in the Senate.
The ACLU said it is a matter of fairness. “As the court reiterated today, 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,” said Chris Brooks, legal director of the ACLU of North Carolina Foundation.
The state pro-life movement believes it is under attack by the Legal Left and will eventually prevail. Bobbie Meyer, the state director of the NCPCF, said the plaintiffs “are trying to create issues so there are no 'Choose Life' license plates.”
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But Brooks said, “We would have made the exact same argument if the situation was reversed, and the state planned on issuing a pro-choice plate while not offering one expressing the opposite point of view."
Ken Cuccinelli, as attorney general of Virginia, told LifeSiteNews he faced a similar conundrum when he introduced the bill creating the Old Dominion's “choose life” license plates as a state senator. Legal experts said they must allow a pro-abortion message to go forward.
The pro-life plate is bright yellow, he said. The pro-abortion plate, which sold far fewer pressings, is unassuming. “You hardly notice it” on Virginia's roads, he said.