Federal Judge Rules North Carolina’s ‘Choose Life’ License Plates Unconstitutional

A federal judge appointed by Ronald Reagan has ordered the state of North Carolina to stop producing pro-life license plates unless it also makes available plates that favor abortion.

U.S. District Court Judge James Carroll Fox said that the current “Choose Life” plates amount to “viewpoint discrimination” and are therefore unconstitutional.

“This court concludes … that the states’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,” Fox wrote.

He pointed to the 2004 case of Planned Parenthood v. Rose, in which the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals, which covers Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina, declared unconstitutional a law that allowed the creation of “Choose Life” license plates. The ruling, written by Judge Michael Luttig, appointed by George H.W. Bush, with a concurrence of two Clinton-appointed justices, stated that both viewpoints surrounding abortion must be represented in order for the law to be permissible.

In issuing today’s ruling, Fox sided with the ACLU of North Carolina, which had sued the state on behalf of residents who thought it unfair that the legislature would not also allow the issuance of customized pro-abortion plates.

The state began offering “Choose Life” plates in 2011 after legislators approved a measure allowing the pro-life plates to be produced. Each plate is an extra $25, fifteen of which goes to the Carolina Pregnancy Care Fellowship, a non-profit organization that helps to fund pregnancy care centers throughout North Carolina. Reports state that some have since requested that the state also create plates advocating abortion, but those requests have all been denied.

According to WGHP-TV in High Point, six separate amendments have been presented to lawmakers in the state legislature in an effort to have produced plates that read either “Trust Women. Respect Choice” or just “Respect Choice.” The legislature has struck down all six amendments as they have failed to obtain a majority vote.

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“This is a great victory for the free speech rights of all North Carolinians, regardless of their point of view on reproductive freedom,” Chris Brook, Legal Director of the ACLU of North Carolina, wrote in a statement issued today. “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.”

However, Republican Representative Mitch Gillespie, one of the sponsors of the original pro-life bill, advised that he will urge Attorney General Roy Cooper to appeal Fox’s decision. He stated that he has a plan to keep the “Choose Life” plates in circulation, but did not elaborate on the specifics of his proposal.

Bobbie Meyer, director of the Carolina Pregnancy Care Fellowship, told reporters that the pro-life license plates are a beneficial source of revenue for organizations that seek to save life.

“The choose life license plate has already raised over 12 million dollars in the states that allow them thereby helping mothers and their families,” she said. “Here in North Carolina, there are 85 pregnancy care centers who last year saw over 46,000 women and children.”

North Carolina offers a variety of specialty plates, including everything from breast cancer awareness to anti-litter campaigns, to surfing, forestry and a wide assortment of NASCAR designs.


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