Richmond, Va. — A federal appeals court on Tuesday upheld a 2012 court ruling that North Carolina's decision to issue special anti-abortion license plates is unconstitutional because the state doesn't offer similar plates supporting abortion rights.
In a unanimous ruling, a three-judge panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals found that the proposed "Choose Life" plates represent "blatant viewpoint discrimination squarely at odds with the First Amendment."
The decision upholds a December 2012 ruling by U.S. District Judge James Fox in Raleigh, which came 13 months after he blocked the state from issuing the plates while a lawsuit by the American Civil Liberties Union was pending.
North Carolina lawmakers authorized the "Choose Life" plate in 2011, with a portion of the proceeds from sales of the plates earmarked for a nonprofit that supports crisis pregnancy centers. The law prohibited money from the plates from going to any group that promoted abortion.
Meanwhile, lawmakers defeated various amendments to the bill that created the "Choose Life" plate that would have also authorized plates that would have stated “Trust Women. Respect Choice” or “Respect Choice.”
“Today’s ruling protects the right of North Carolinians of all political beliefs to have equal access to avenues for free speech,” Chris Brook, ACLU state legal director, said in a statement. “The government cannot create an avenue of expression for one side of a contentious political issue while denying an equal opportunity to citizens with the opposite view. ... 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.”