‘Choose Life’ License Plate Challenged in N.C.

     RALEIGH, N.C. (CN) – The ACLU sued North Carolina for approving a “Choose Life” specialty license plate but “expressly and repeatedly” rejecting a pro-choice plate. The ACLU sued on behalf of four state residents after lawmakers rejected six proposals for plates bearing words such as “Respect Choice” or “Trust Women; Respect Choice.”
     The Legislature approved the specialty license plate bill, H.B. 289, on June 18, and Gov. Beverly Perdue signed it into law on June 30. It approved a “Choose Life” specialty plate despite the fact that in 2004 the 4th Circuit struck down that very plate, as unconstitutional viewpoint discrimination, in neighboring South Carolina.
     The North Carolina Legislature “makes available a specialty license plate with the words ‘Choose Life’ to vehicle owners seeking to express their opposition to abortion … [but] Vehicle owners interested in obtaining a specialty plate with a slogan expressing support for a woman’s right to reproductive freedom, including the right to abortion, by contrast, are unable to do so. Indeed, the State of North Carolina … has expressly and repeatedly rejected the development of a pro-choice license plate. Thus, the State has opened a state-created forum for private speech to only one viewpoint in the public debate over abortion, in violation of the plaintiffs’ tights under the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution, as set forth in Planned Parenthood of South Carolina, Inc. v. Rose, 361 F.3d 786 (4th Cir. 2004) (striking down South Carolina’s ‘Choose Life’ license plate as unconstitutional viewpoint discrimination under the First Amendment.” (Parentheses in complaint.)
     The debate over the specialty plate bill was pointed and rancorous, culminating in a warning from state Rep. Jennifer Weiss, who told “Choose Life” plate sponsor Rep. Mitch Gillespie that “the state will be sued,” according to the complaint.
     Gillespie responded that “litigation over the bill is ‘fine’ with him,” the complaint states.
     And here it is.
     The ACLU seeks declaratory and injunctive relief.
     It is represented by Katherine Lewis Parker, legal director of the ACLU Raleigh office.

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