(CN) – The 8th Circuit struck down a provision of Missouri’s statutory framework used to deny an application for a “Choose Life” specialty license plate, saying it gives state officials “unbridled discretion to restrict private speech.”
Kevin Roach, founder of Choose Life of Missouri, claimed that the Missouri Department of Revenue rejected his application for the anti-abortion specialty plates on the basis of viewpoint discrimination. After Roach appealed the denial to a joint committee, two pro-choice senators sent the chair of the committee a letter opposing the “Choose Life” specialty plates, the ruling states. The joint committee again rejected his application.
Choose Life sued the committee members in their official capacities, alleging violations of its rights to free speech, due process and equal protection.
The district court ruled in the plaintiff’s favor, and the St. Louis-based federal appeals court agreed.
Judge Gruender said the 8th Circuit sided with its sister circuits in ruling that specialty plates constitute private speech, not government speech. And because the statutory scheme allows unconstitutional viewpoint discrimination, the court ruled, state officials should be required to issue the “Choose Life” specialty plates.
But the court stopped short of striking down the entire specialty plate statutory scheme, saying the challenged provision can be severed.