WASHINGTON — A prominent Christian legal organization has petitioned the United States Supreme Court to affirm the right of North Carolina officials to issue ‘Choose Life’ license plates to residents who wish to purchase them.
Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) filed an appeal with the court on Friday on behalf of Thom Tillis, speaker of the North Carolina House of Representatives, and Phil Berger, president pro tempore of the North Carolina Senate.
“State governments have a right to advance messages consistent with their public policies,” said 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.”
As previously reported, in February, a three-judge panel with the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously upheld a federal judge’s ruling that declared the “Choose Life” license plate unconstitutional. U.S. District Court Judge James Carroll Fox had opined in December that the plates amounted to viewpoint discrimination because the state did not also issue plates favoring abortion.
In releasing his 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.
“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.
The state first 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.
“The choose life license plate has already raised over 12 million dollars in the states that allow them, thereby helping mothers and their families,” director Bobbie Meyer told reporters. “Here in North Carolina, there are 85 pregnancy care centers who last year saw over 46,000 women and children.”
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 struck down all six amendments as they failed to obtain a majority vote.
As the state attorney general declined to appeal the 4th Circuit decision to the Supreme Court, Tillis and Berger requested to represent the state instead. The appeals court obliged.
“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.’”
While the Supreme Court declines to hear the majority of cases seeking certiorari, ADF told the court that “[g]iven the critical need for states to be able to speak for themselves and the confusion among circuits as to the proper test for government speech, [the Supreme Court] should review the Fourth Circuit’s decision to clarify the proper constitutional standard for government speech and to explain how that standard applies in the context of ‘Choose Life’ specialty plates.”