By L.A. Williams, Correspondent
Christian Action League
July 17, 2014
After years of detours, efforts to offer a Choose Life license plate to North Carolina drivers may be back on the road again as Alliance Defending Freedom is asking the U.S. Supreme Court to weigh in on whether abortion supporters can demand censorship of the plates.
ADF attorneys and allied lawyers representing N.C. Speaker of the House Thom Tillis (R-Mecklenburg) and Senate President Pro Tempore Phil Berger (R-Rockingham) filed the request, which centers on the government speech doctrine, July 11, five months after the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals had upheld a lower court ruling denying the state’s right to offer the plates.
“State governments have a right to advance messages consistent with their public policies,” ADF Senior Counsel Casey Mattox said via a press release. “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.”
Pro-life advocates had pushed for the plates for nearly a decade, making little progress until June of 2011, when Choose Life was approved along with more than 75 other specialty tags. When abortion forces challenged the plates, U.S. District Court Judge James Fox ordered an injunction against their production and then ruled against them in December 2012. It was his ruling that was upheld by the Fourth Circuit in February.
“The Fourth 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.’”
In its filing, ADF says determining the proper standard for government speech “presents an important question of federal law that should be resolved by the Court,” adding that only the Supreme Court can resolve discrepancies among rulings in the Fourth, Sixth, Seventh, Eighth, Ninth and Eleventh circuits.
General Assembly leaders decided to seek the High Court’s review on the issue in late April, when the State Attorney General announced he would not further push the case.
“We are thankful our lawmakers had the foresight to pass Senate Bill 473 last year, a statute that authorizes legislative leaders to represent the state in court if a state law or constitutional provision is challenged,” said the Rev. Mark Creech, executive director of the Christian Action League. “We had called on the state to appeal the Choose Life case to the full Fourth Circuit Court when the three- judge panel announced its ruling early this year. We’re especially glad to see that the issue is alive and well and may wind up before the Supreme Court.”
He said if North Carolinians can proclaim that they are Animal Lovers, call for a plan to Save the Sea Turtles or identify as a Friend of the Great Smoky Mountains on their license plates, there is no reason they should not be able to suggest that our society “Choose Life” via the same medium.
Beyond helping the state proclaim a pro-life message, drivers who have sought the tags do so to help fund pregnancy resource centers, which would receive $15 for every $25 plate purchase.
About half the states have made similar pro-life plates available to their drivers, with the Choose Life message raising more than $12 million for PRCs across the nation.