North Carolina’s 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a federal judge’s ruling that the “Choose Life” license plate is unconstitutional. The pro-life plate was approved in 2011, at the same time NC lawmakers rejected abortion-rights-themed plates.
“Today’s ruling protects the right of North Carolinians of all political beliefs to have equal access to avenues for free speech,” American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina attorney Chris Brook said in a written statement. Appeals Court Judge James A. Wynn, a North Carolina resident, claimed that granting a privilege to one outlook and not the opposing one constitutes “blatant viewpoint discrimination squarely at odds with the First Amendment.”
Pro-life vanity plates have raised thousands of dollars for crisis pregnancy centers nationwide. In Texas, tens of thousands of dollars were raised from sales of newly authorized “Choose Life” license plates as part of a movement “to encourage adoption as an alternative to abortion.” The revenues provided crucial funding for 13 crisis pregnancy centers and adoption agencies.
According to a February 1 report by the Guttmacher Institute, “Choose Life” license plates are available in 29 states, including Hawaii, New Jersey, and Massachusetts. Eighteen of those states donate proceeds from the license plates to agencies that promote adoption assistance, counseling, training, or advertising.
Attorney Brook, who urged the appeals court to strike down the specialty plate at a hearing in October, insists that the ACLU would have taken the same stance had North Carolina authorized specialty plates only for abortion-rights supporters. The state has the right to appeal the decision to the full appeals court or to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Noelle Talley, spokeswoman for Attorney General Roy Cooper, said state attorneys were reviewing the ruling but had not made any decisions at this point. Presently, North Carolina has been banned from manufacturing the “Choose Life” plates while the ACLU’s challenge is pending.
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