North Carolina cannot offer a pro-life license plate unless they also allow a pro-choice version. So says the U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals.
The North Carolina General Assembly passed a law in October of 2011, directing the state to sell a pro-life vanity plate. The $25 surcharge would have gone to support Carolina Pregnancy Care Fellowship, which distributes grants to groups providing services and counseling to pregnant women in crisis.
“We don’t have a problem with the ‘Choose Life’ plate as long as there’s a pro-choice alternative,” said Katy Parker, legal director for the ACLU of North Carolina.
However, the Assembly refused to allow the sale of a “Trust Women” or “Respect Choice” license plate. Assemblyman Mitch Gillespie, who sponsored the bill, said if an amendment to include a pro-choice plate passed, he would kill his own bill.
“That was my legislation, and I didn’t want it attached to my name and bill.” Gillespie said.
So the ACLU sued.
“It’s clear from the legislative record that the legislators were very intent on forcing the anti-choice side of the issue and preventing the pro-choice side from getting out there,” Katy Parker said.
In November, District Court Judge James Fox temporarily blocked the law from going into effect while the case was heard.
Arguments centered around whether the license plates represent private speech or government speech. At the end of that process, in December 2012, Judge Fox ruled the law was unconstitutional viewpoint discrimination. Now, to the dismay of the National Right To Life News Today, a three judge appeals court panel has upheld that decision.
Judge James Wynn wrote the opinion for the panel, which voted unanimously to overturn the law saying:
“Chief amongst the evils the First Amendment prohibits are government ‘restrictions distinguishing among different speakers, allowing speech by some but not others. In this case, North Carolina seeks to do just that: privilege speech on one side of the hotly debated issue — reproductive choice — while silencing opposing voices.”
North Carolina’s attorney general, Roy Cooper, has the option of appealing the case to the entire Fourth Circuit, or to the Supreme Court. A spokesman for the attorney general would say only that they are reviewing the court’s ruling.
Photo via NC.gov
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