Judge finds NC 'Choose Life' plates unconstitutional

Posted December 10, 2012

— A federal judge has ruled 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.

U.S. District Court Judge James Fox ruled on Friday that the state's attempt to offer only the “Choose Life” plates represents "viewpoint discrimination in violation of the First Amendment."

Fox last year blocked the state from issuing the plates while a suit by the American Civil Liberties Union was pending.

Chris Brook, legal director of the ACLU's North Carolina Legal Foundation, said the case is about free speech, not abortion.

"The problem here is the lack of balance," Brook said. "It's a First Amendment issue. If you're going to have this government avenue for private speech, you need to allow speech on both sides of the political debate to occur."

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.”

Rep. Mitch Gillespie, R-McDowell, sponsored the bill for the "Choose Life" plate, and he said Monday that he will encourage the North Carolina Attorney General's Office to appeal the decision.

Rep. Mitch Gillespie, R-McDowell Lawmaker seeks appeal, plans to keep pursuing pro-life plate

The Attorney General's Office hasn't yet decided whether to appeal the ruling. Any appeal would go to the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which ruled against a similar license plate law in South Carolina in 2004.

“Every case is different. They could rule differently,” Gillespie said. "There’s a very good debate over whether it’s viewpoint discrimination.”

Twenty-nine states either already make "Choose Life" plates available or have approved such plates but have not manufactured them. But the plates have a mixed record when it comes to court challenges, with some judges ruling states can sell them and others siding with challengers who say the plates are unconstitutional.

North Carolina's two Catholic bishops called Fox's ruling "a tremendous disappointment" and said in a statement that they hope the state appeals the case.

Gillespie said he plans to try again when the General Assembly reconvenes next year to get a pro-life license plate in North Carolina, but he said he's opposed to a "Respect Choice" plate.

"I’d be willing to sacrifice this before I’d be willing to vote for that. Personally, I couldn’t do it,” he said. “My personal convictions on this are strong.”


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  • ladyblue Dec 11, 2012

    I get so sick and tired of "they got" "I want the same" mentality this world is coming to and sick of judges who pander to this nonsense.
    . why not just donate to each of these causes and forget a darn plate.

  • slowpoke4333 Dec 11, 2012

    They should allow both this plate and the "Respect Choice" plate. Let anyone that wants a vanity plate of some sort pay through the nose. Offset the fee for the rest of us!

  • WageSlave Dec 11, 2012

    Easy. "Social conservatives" are commies. True conservatives are now Libertarians.


  • bowens44 Dec 11, 2012

    "its not religious"


  • bowens44 Dec 11, 2012

    "throw these type of frivolous law suits out"

    Yes because as we all know, protecting the Constitution of the United States is frivolous.......unbelievable. Conservatives apparently hate the constitution when it is at odds with there quaint, antiquated puritanical belief system...

  • Brian Jenkins Dec 11, 2012

    Choose a bumper sticker! Cheaper and not as tacky as whatever that thing is called a license plate.

  • Brian Jenkins Dec 11, 2012

    "I'll never understand the unholy union between social "conservatives" and actual conservatives."

    Easy. "Social conservatives" are commies. True conservatives are now Libertarians.

  • Da Toy Maker Dec 11, 2012

    BTW, it stinks when the Government takes your freedom of speech away, doesn't it???

  • chattycat Dec 11, 2012

    do understand it is an individual choice to get one and your opinion is fairly meaningless in that decision .. and the state makes a nice bucket of money on it- soyousay

    And what is your point? I have every right to my opinion as you do! I think it is a silly ego trip. My opinion and you don't have to agree, I could care less.

  • Paul Parker Dec 11, 2012

    Ok, let the other side have their NC plates. Let us see, What would it say? Choose Death, because that is what it is.
    December 11, 2012 12:55 p.m.

    It might say “Trust Women. Respect Choice” or “Respect Choice” just like was stated in the article.