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'Choose Life' license plates ruled unconstitutional in North Carolina
December 11th, 2012
01:13 AM ET

'Choose Life' license plates ruled unconstitutional in North Carolina

By Joe Sutton, CNN

(CNN) - A federal judge ruled that North Carolina's new "Choose Life" license plates are unconstitutional because the state does not offer a pro-choice alternative.

"The State's offering a Choose Life license plate in the absence of a pro-choice alternative constitutes viewpoint discrimination in violation of the First Amendment," U.S. District Court Judge James Fox wrote in the ruling Friday.

The ruling was praised by the American Civil Liberties Union, which had filed a lawsuit in 2011 to stop the specialty plates.

"This is a great victory for the free speech rights of all North Carolinians, regardless of their point of view on reproductive freedom," said Chris Brook of the ACLU. "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."

Republican state Rep. Mitch Gillespie, who sponsored the bill for the "Choose Life" plates, said he would push for an appeal of the judge's decision, CNN affiliate WRAL reported.

The bill for the license plates passed in 2011, and the legislation also mandated that money raised from the sale of the specialty plates would go to a nonprofit that supports crisis pregnancy centers, WRAL reported.

During the fight to get the bill passed, North Carolina lawmakers voted down amendments that would have created pro-choice alternatives such as "Trust Women. Respect Choice," the affiliate reported.

The "Choose Life" plates are available in 29 states, according to Choose Life Inc., a nonprofit that helps states that want to sell these specialty plates.

- A. Hawkins

Filed under: Abortion • Courts • North Carolina

soundoff (3,213 Responses)
  1. Alex Uribe

    This judge probably deserves to have this case overturned on several grounds. First, the license plate doesn't argue against "Pro-Choice." The license plate says CHOOSE LIFE... See, it's operating within the realm that a person has choice.

    Second, this decision should be overturned under Planned Parenthood of SE Pennsylvania v. Casey, 505 U.S. 833 (1992). In that case, the Supreme Court of the United States held that the state governments have a legitimate interest in preserving fetal life and may do so as long as it does not UNDULY BURDEN the ability of the mother to actually choose to have an abortion.

    Here, the state government is using STATE PROPERY, your license plate, if you want it, to promote its permissible interest in fetal life. No case has ever held that the government MUST also promote the choice to terminate a pregnancy.

    As far as free speech goes, the license plate here is a STATE GOVERNMENT ISSUED item. I don't believe it qualifies as an open forum for free speech requirements that this judge has allocated to it. Your license plate is government issued, government property. The fact that some states allow you to put a special kind of plate (such as this one) or a vanity plate does not mean that they open "license plates" as an open forum to express one's view points.

    Under Federal jurisprudence, the state is totally allowed to support the pro-life without having to promote termination equally so long as it has no undue burden on any woman's right to an abortion should she want one.

    December 11, 2012 at 8:28 am |
    • Tebojockey

      Which is all well and fine, but the State does not have the right to use tax dollars to promote Pro-Life choices in such a fashion. This can also be construed as a church-and-state issue. The ruling will more than likely be sustained under that issue and the fact that tax dollars were spent without any public referendum to do so.

      While your points may have been well taken, it is doubtful that they will be enough to convince a federal appellate court, singly or even "en banc," that this ruling should be overturned.

      By the time the State has depleted its treasury defending against the suit, it would probably have been cheaper to offer a Pro-Choice plate.

      December 11, 2012 at 8:34 am |
    • Gaunt

      So many things wrong with your claim.

      Firstly, choose life is an obvious reference to anti-abortionists. If the symbolism is obvious, then so is the association, which has already been ruled on by the USSC (burning crosses symbolising the KKK).

      State and federal government are covered by freedom of speech. Of course. Anything can qualify as a forum if state or federal law only grants access to one side of a free debate.

      The state can promote one opinion, but it cannot supress the alternative, especially when the alternative in question is the law of the land.

      December 11, 2012 at 8:35 am |
    • frontgate

      Right wing goof ball.
      Mark one for Roger Williams and separation of church and state. HOORAH!

      December 11, 2012 at 8:36 am |
    • JC

      That's the most nonsensical argument I've read in a long time.

      December 11, 2012 at 8:37 am |
    • Tebojockey

      @Gaunt –
      Great reply but State and Federal governments do NOT have free speech, nor do their employees, when acting in an official capacity. The Supreme Court has repeatedly decided this.

      December 11, 2012 at 8:39 am |
    • Jean Sartre

      That's a very weak and specious argument...

      December 11, 2012 at 8:55 am |
    • john

      Especially since tax dollars were NOT used fo rthe plates as they charge extra fees to more than cover the cost of the plates. In these cases, the special plates MAKE the state money vice costing it anything.

      December 11, 2012 at 8:58 am |
    • Alex Uribe

      Read Planned Parenthood v. Casey. A state interest in preserving fetal life IS NOT an establishment/church and state issue. If it had been, they would have argued that in this case, roe v. wade, PP v. casey etc... they don't because preserving fetal life is not considered a church v. state thing. Same thing why prohibiting murder is ok even though a fundamental morality is the driving force behind our laws against it.

      The state government CAN use tax dollars to promote it's view point in favor of preserving fetal life. In that case, the state was allowed to give women who were seeking an abortion literature in favor of choosing birth over the abortion. It's OK to NOT GIVE PRO-ABORTION literature. The thing states are not allowed to do is UNDULY BURDEN a womans choice. There is 0 chance that a license plate is an undue burden on a woman's choice.

      Like it or not, the state is allowed to favor keeping the baby over abortion. Read the case.

      As far as how likely it will be overturned.... Depends on the lawyer. I could see a very compelling case for it. Considering this has no impact on actual aboriton policies, there's no reason to disallow the government from voicing its opinion on it's own property. Not to mention that no one is FORCED to have the choose life plate...

      December 11, 2012 at 8:59 am |
    • heliocracy

      This is why they don't let amateurs practice law.

      December 11, 2012 at 9:15 am |
    • Alex Uribe

      It's OK, I understand you don't like my view point so you must attack me rather than make any sort of argument against what I have posted... Pretty amateurish on your part though.

      December 11, 2012 at 9:35 am |
  2. Steve

    Shocked that they even had the plates in NC in the first place given how much liberals have infiltrated NC, because they fled their liberal craphole due to the high taxes, high unemployment, and high crimes. Even NC has a smoking ban now due to liberals wanting to control people's lives outside of butt secks and abortion.

    December 11, 2012 at 8:28 am |
    • sybaris

      Steve< Closet Liberal

      December 11, 2012 at 8:30 am |
    • Quid Malmborg in Plano TX

      You're a bit shrill there, Steve. Closeted Liberal, indeed.

      December 11, 2012 at 8:56 am |
    • heliocracy

      The states have an interest in curbing smoking because they pay part of medicare and medicaid coverage, and smoking makes those costs higher. It's not a liberal or conservative issue at all. I'm constantly amazed at how conservatives automatically blame liberalism for everything they don't like, rather than putting in some effort to educate themselves about issues instead. Conservatism really is the default philosophy of the stu-pid and lazy.

      December 11, 2012 at 9:32 am |
  3. Steve

    By the court's logic, they can't have any gay rights plates without anti gay rights plates. you can't have NAACP plates without some white advocacy group plates.

    December 11, 2012 at 8:25 am |
    • sybaris

      The difference is that gay rights and NAACP are based on the efforts and ideology of real people. The Choose Life plate is drawn from a book of fairy tales and mythological characters. Kinda like having a plate that said Vote for Santa

      December 11, 2012 at 8:36 am |
    • Gaunt

      That is not the logic of the court at all. Its not even close.

      Please stop going out of your way to appear stupid.

      December 11, 2012 at 8:36 am |
  4. joe Skinner

    it should be "choose life unless you arent a rich white person who votes republican otherwise you will be called a moocher/parasite/leech/47% who wont take responsibility for yourself".

    December 11, 2012 at 8:24 am |
  5. Jim McDonald

    Did the Judge also force the state to offer anti enviromental plates?

    December 11, 2012 at 8:23 am |
  6. Gus

    or choose life but wars are GREAT

    December 11, 2012 at 8:22 am |
  7. JayneQP

    ...OH, here's a thought: How about a license plate that says: CHOOSE ABSTINENCE. The core issue isn't what to do after the fact... it's how people (mostly young ones) get into the situation in the first place. Or... RESPECT YOURSELF. Another one, that people can rally behind no matter which side of the fence you're on... or is it more important to create conflict and maintain hostility?

    December 11, 2012 at 8:22 am |
    • Mirosal

      Jayne ... according to Tim Allen, us men ARE good for two things .. lawn care and vehicle maintenance... see, we are good for a couple of things lol .. oh, and taking the trash out .. usually :)

      December 11, 2012 at 8:31 am |
    • JayneQP

      @Mirosal...I KNEW it... my amazing wonderful husband had something to do with my beautiful children...and making sure our basement doesn't flood.

      December 11, 2012 at 8:34 am |
    • Jean Sartre

      If anyone needs to just CHOOSE LIFE, it is Jayne...

      December 11, 2012 at 8:59 am |
  8. fiftyfive55

    If the girls kept their legs closed til they got married we would have alot less issues than we do now

    December 11, 2012 at 8:21 am |
    • Mirosal

      You're pretty quick to play the blame game aren't you?

      December 11, 2012 at 8:25 am |
    • JayneQP

      RIGHT??? Because, I was all by myself the other day, with my legs wide open and BAM! I was suddenly pregnant! I must be right up there ... indeed, all women who get pregnant all by themselves (all of us according to you), are right up there with the Virgin Mary! WOW! We are awesome... which means we need men like you for... what is your purpose? Nothing, if we can do it all by ourselves! So long useless Fiftyfive55.

      December 11, 2012 at 8:26 am |
    • sam stone

      really? married women don't get abortions, fiftyfive55?

      December 11, 2012 at 8:29 am |
    • poipoi2001

      Household economy dosen't un royally screw itself when you get married.

      December 11, 2012 at 8:29 am |
    • fiftyfive55

      @mirosol-if you cant tell the difference between men and women,we dont have anything to discuss
      @JayneQP-a little self control goes a long way
      @sam stone-you just like to defend baby killers

      December 11, 2012 at 8:35 am |
    • Co_Co_D

      Or you could teach boys to keep their penis in their pants. Birth control is not only the woman's responsibility, and most of these boys have the option to walk away unlike the girls who are left with the biggest decision of their lives. But I guess a short sighted individual like yourself could not even comprehend this little fact.

      December 11, 2012 at 8:37 am |
    • Gaunt

      So 55, at the start of this discussion you were trying to make actual points. Foolish and uneducated points, but points none the less.

      Now you have degenerated to just desperate trolling for a reaction.

      What happened to you?

      December 11, 2012 at 8:38 am |
    • Mirosal

      @ 55 .. I've been married twice and am retired from the US Navy, I am well aware of the differences between boys and girls, and men and women. Male legislators really have NO business even debating this issue, and until they somehow develop a uterus, men should have NO say in it. It IS our job, however, to support HER in whatever decision SHE makes. It's like a male gynecologist, or a car mechanic who's never owned a car. Since it's a decision men will never have to face, all we SHOULD do is supoprt her, not TELL her what she must do.

      December 11, 2012 at 8:47 am |
    • ReallyFair&Balanced

      did you get a new screen name Flush Limpstick?

      December 11, 2012 at 9:18 am |
  9. Brah Ma

    As a matter of argument then: If plates such as "save the whales" and "Go Packers" are legal, do states also have to offer "To hell with the whales" and "I am rooting for anyone but Packers"?

    December 11, 2012 at 8:20 am |
    • JayneQP

      LOLOLOL!!!!!

      December 11, 2012 at 8:26 am |
    • Kurt

      I think "I am rooting for anyone but the Packers" should replace "Land of Lincoln" on Illinois plates.

      December 11, 2012 at 8:34 am |
    • Saraswati

      WHY would we have any of these on a license plate???? If the state wants to raise money this is in line with selling junk food in the schools to raise funds. Just stop it, the government shouldn't be in this business.

      December 11, 2012 at 8:50 am |
  10. Jeff

    Apparently they do have a problem with at least the word "life", Sam Stone...the word "choose" was right there all along! Does that not imply that there is a choice?

    December 11, 2012 at 8:19 am |
  11. dmacker

    A choose "death" plate should satisfy the Federal court judge.
    This is a silly defense of "free speech".
    This really smacks of "I don't like the color blue and neither should you".
    If you don't like the plate don't get it.
    If you want another plate, design one and submit it for approval.
    Federal courts are really getting out of hand with overreaching rulings.

    December 11, 2012 at 8:17 am |
    • tom

      Did you not read the article? Other plates with the other opinion were rejected.

      December 11, 2012 at 8:21 am |
    • Daremonai

      The pro-choice plate was rejected. So we have a case of state officials allowing plates with one political view, but not the other. If people had a choice of which view to go with it would be one thing, but it was denied.. which is why it is a speech issue.

      December 11, 2012 at 8:22 am |
    • northerstar

      Our tax money should never have been used to create this license plate (NC taxpayers).

      December 11, 2012 at 8:23 am |
    • dmacker

      "During the fight to get the bill passed, North Carolina lawmakers voted down amendments that would have created pro-choice alternatives such as "Trust Women. Respect Choice," the affiliate reported".

      Too many words to fit on the plate.
      Pick one or the other and resubmit.

      December 11, 2012 at 8:27 am |
    • tom

      I don't think it was because it was too many words. If you think so, you're being naive.

      December 11, 2012 at 8:30 am |
  12. uncdig

    Ok – give the otherside their plate – How about "choose Murder", or "baby murderer", then it should be ok?

    December 11, 2012 at 8:13 am |
    • everything in Moderation

      How about "choose the right to control your own body?"
      or
      "Choose to have men carry the babies" (We can do this medically. I say sign every one of the pro-life men up)
      how about:
      "Choosing life means NO DEATH PENALTY, either" (or is it okay to kill after the fetus is fully formed?)
      or
      "Choose not to have women die in hotel rooms from coat-hanger abortions and back-alley abortions that happen when there's no other access."

      December 11, 2012 at 8:20 am |
    • Jt_flyer

      I'm pro choice but I think these things should be,decided by the states. The united STATES. That's what our forefathers intended. And thats one reason i choose not to live in NC. But Federalism is not the answer.

      December 11, 2012 at 8:21 am |
    • fiftyfive55

      @everything in moderation-if you hate being a woman so much,you can get an operation like Cher's daughter did.

      December 11, 2012 at 8:25 am |
    • Matrix

      "My body; my choice" argument falls flat on its face when you consider that there are banned substances in this country. We don't have a choice over our own bodies. The government does.

      December 11, 2012 at 8:26 am |
    • sam stone

      not murder according to the law of the land, uncdig.

      December 11, 2012 at 8:30 am |
    • sam stone

      fiftyfive55: apparently, it worked out for you

      December 11, 2012 at 8:31 am |
  13. robert

    Great ruling despite what the anti-choice whiners are saying. With no alternative offered and the plate essentially being state sponsored this was a clear cut case. Grow up people.

    December 11, 2012 at 8:11 am |
    • brewgeek

      except the other side can have a plate.... all they have to do is apply and get enough people (Under 300 I think) to say they want it. So how is it against free speech?

      December 11, 2012 at 8:22 am |
    • tracy

      robert--sounds like you're one of the guys that don't wear a condom, get a girl pregnant and tell her to abort it. you need to grow up. just because the other side didn't come up with a plate and submit it for approval does not mean that anti-abotion plates needs to be censored.

      December 11, 2012 at 8:31 am |
  14. Guy

    Those two kids faces on the plate look just like the ones in the child abuse case in the orphanage in Raleigh.

    December 11, 2012 at 8:08 am |
  15. OBAMA PHONE

    Really?

    December 11, 2012 at 8:06 am |
  16. JayneQP

    What is the point, here? It's like the pro-unwanted-children-with-the-high-rate-of-abuse-neglect & poverty-drug sbuse and death-cycle want to be the favorite child. WE have a license plate.... YOU only have bumper stickers. How about a license plate that says, "I will be responsible for the 2.2 Million children a year that would otherwise be part of the {aforementioned cycle}." YAY!!! Now that is a a statement that has meaning.

    December 11, 2012 at 8:05 am |
  17. Gedwards

    ""This is a great victory for the free speech rights of all North Carolinians, regardless of their point of view on reproductive freedom," said Chris Brook of the ACLU."
    ========================

    How can any sane person actually say that with a straight face?

    December 11, 2012 at 8:04 am |
    • Standford

      Because it's TRUE!

      December 11, 2012 at 8:20 am |
    • wgf

      Because it's true.

      December 11, 2012 at 8:21 am |
    • G_Edwards

      "Your free speech was trampled on, so other people's free speech must also be trampled on, in order to be a victory for free speech."

      Classic backwards thinking by at least three people now.

      December 11, 2012 at 8:23 am |
    • Daremonai

      That is how freedom works.... everyone gets it. You can not have one side given freedom and the other silenced and call that 'freedom'.

      December 11, 2012 at 8:23 am |
    • brewgeek

      No it's not.... The right to choose people CAN have their own plate. All they have to do is apply. So how is it OK now?

      December 11, 2012 at 8:24 am |
    • tom

      brewgeek, did you not read the article? The right to choose plate was rejected. Therein lies the problem.

      December 11, 2012 at 8:45 am |
  18. Chiniquy

    I am 100% against the killing of unborn children (after the sperm has penetrated the woman's egg then life begins). But I am in agreement with this ruling. If the state doesn't allow the other side to have a pro-choice plate then it goes against our American laws.

    December 11, 2012 at 8:02 am |
    • Gaunt

      So a sperm and an egg are not alive?

      December 11, 2012 at 8:03 am |
    • Veritas

      Nope. Sperm and eggs are gametes, which are a haploid. A human being is a diploid organism.

      December 11, 2012 at 8:15 am |
    • Stevie

      The word used was 'alive' not 'human'.

      December 11, 2012 at 8:35 am |
    • Jean Sartre

      I guess you are against killing children... then you define an ovum and a spem cell as life.

      IT IS NOT A CHILD!

      At the very best, it is a very immature beginning of life... NOT A CHILD!

      They do teach Biology 101 in most states... yet...

      December 11, 2012 at 9:09 am |
  19. The Dude

    Choose Life, so that we can bring the unwanted child into this world and choose not to help pay for it. Then when that unwanted child grows up and murders then we can execute it.

    December 11, 2012 at 8:02 am |
  20. Pedro Gonzalez

    NYOD sounds like a typical hater.

    December 11, 2012 at 7:59 am |
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