By Dave Andrusko
On Friday Republican leaders in the North Carolina legislature petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court to review a decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit that barred the state from issuing “Choose Life” license plates.
Attorneys for Thom Tillis, speaker of the North Carolina House of Representatives, and Phil Berger, president pro tempore of the North Carolina Senate, asked the High Court to determine whether a 2011 law creating the specialty license plate is constitutional.
“State governments have a right to advance messages consistent with their public policies,” said Alliance Defending Freedom [ADF] Senior Counsel Casey Mattox. “The Supreme Court has already affirmed that right. North Carolinians support protecting life and helping pregnant women in need; the First Amendment does not require the state to bow to demands that it censor the ‘Choose Life’ message.”
“Across the country, groups like the ACLU have tried to use the high court’s First Amendment speech cases to censor government expression,” Elon University School of Law Professor Scott Gaylord added. “Such efforts are not only inconsistent with the purpose of the First Amendment, but also with the Supreme Court’s government speech precedents.”
Under provision of the law, passed by the North Carolina General Assembly in 2011, citizens could pay an additional $25 fee for the “Choose Life” license plate, $15 of which would go to the Carolina Pregnancy Care Fellowship, a private organization that supports the needs of pregnant women in North Carolina. As ADF noted, North Carolina offers other specialty plates that also fund causes that benefit the state and are consistent with its public policies.
The ACLU challenged the law before plates could be issued.
U.S. District Court Judge James C. Fox ruled against the law because “The State’s offering of a Choose Life license plate in the absence of a pro-choice plate constitutes viewpoint discrimination in violation of the First Amendment”
In February 2014, a divided panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit upheld his decision.
“The 4th Circuit’s decision is at odds with other circuits that have upheld the right of states to issue such plates,” said ADF Senior Counsel David Cortman. “As the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed as recently as 2009, the government ‘has the right to speak for itself…and to select the views that it wants to express.’”
“Pro-life people worked hard to get this ‘Choose Life’ license plate,” said Barbara Holt, President of North Carolina Right to Life. “They will be the ones who will purchase them. The extra money they voluntarily pay for the plate will go toward encouraging adoption.”
She told NRL News Today that “No one is being forced to buy these plates,” and added, “We are pleased that the case is being appealed.”