North Carolinians wanting vanity license plates with a "Choose Life" message may have been granted a victory on Monday thanks to the Supreme Court.
Monday's decision in Berger v. American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina reversed a previous federal court ruling that deemed the "choose life" licenses plates unconstitutional, since the state did not provide an option that supported abortion rights. The "choose life" plates were to be sold for $25, with $15 going to the Carolina Pregnancy Care Fellowship before the ACLU successfully blocked the plates.
"Choose Life" vanity license plates were deemed unconstitutional by a federal court as North Carolina did not offer a pro-abortion rights option as well. (Image source: Alliance Defending Freed0m)
“The First Amendment does not allow groups like the ACLU to suppress a state’s positive message just because the state does not also simultaneously approve a conflicting negative message,” said Steven H. Aden, senior counsel for the Christian legal organization Alliance Defending Freedom. “Citizens of North Carolina have the freedom to promote messages on their vehicles that their legislature has expressly adopted through license plate legislation.”
After three judges on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit upheld the earlier decision that the license plates could not be sold without a pro-abortion rights counterpart, ADF attorneys partnered with an allied attorney to represent Phil Berger, president pro tempore of the North Carolina Senate, and Thom Tillis, then-speaker of the North Carolina House of Representatives, to ask the Supreme Court to hear the case. The ADF argued that promoting abortions is not consistent with North Carolina's interests and public policy.
Monday's ruling now requires the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals to reconsider the case, referencing its June 18 decision on vanity license plates in Walker v. Texas Division, Sons of Confederate Veterans — which stated that since license plates are considered government speech, Texas is allowed to reject plates bearing the Confederate flag. North Carolina's General Assembly approved the "Choose Life" license plate design in 2011.
WGHP-TV reported in 2012 that six amendments were proposed and then rejected in the state legislature that would create pro-abortion license plates with messages such as "Trust Women. Respect Choice," and "Respect Choice."
“Third parties like the ACLU cannot sanitize the public square of views a state communicates simply because they do not like those messages,” ADF lead counsel Scott Gaylord said in a press release. “As the Supreme Court made clear in Walker, the attempt to censor a message like North Carolina’s ‘Choose Life’ message is inconsistent with both the purpose of the First Amendment and the Supreme Court’s government speech precedents.”
"This case has always been about more than specialty license plates; it asks whether the government should be allowed to provide a platform to one side of a controversial issue while silencing the other," Chris Brook, legal director for North Carolina's ACLU chapter, told WRAL News Monday. "The court’s decision could allow states to censor private speech and discriminate against citizens who hold views that are different from the government’s. The General Assembly should do the right thing and allow citizens on both sides of the debate to purchase specialty plates supporting their views."
The "Choose Life" plates are currently available in 29 states across the country.