North Carolina will not be allowed to produce “Choose Life” license plates without offering a pro-choice alternative according to a ruling Tuesday in the 4th circuit U.S. Court of Appeals.
A panel of judges struck down a law which would have allowed North Carolina drivers to buy a pro-life license plate for $25, with no option for a pro-choice alternative as unconstitutional in a 3-0 decision.
“Today’s ruling protects the right of North Carolinians of all political beliefs to have equal access to avenues for free speech,” said Chris Brook, the legal director for ACLU-NC who argued the case before the court, in a statement.
“As the court reiterated today, 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.”
The North Carolina General Assembly passed House Bill 289, authorizing the issuance of a “Choose Life” license plate, in June, 2011.
During the 2011 legislative session, lawmakers proposed amendments to the bill six different times to also allow the issuance of plates that said either “Trust Women. Respect Choice.” or “Respect Choice.,” but on each occasion, the amendments were voted down.
In December, 2011, U.S. District Court Judge James C. Fox granted a preliminary injunction blocking North Carolina from issuing the “Choose Life” license plates in absence of countervailing alternative; the injunction was made permanent in December, 2012 and license plates were never produced. That permanent injunction was upheld today.
Brook said state officials could seek an “en banc” review of today’s ruling by the entire, 15-member panel of judges in the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals, or seek a review by the U.S. Supreme Court, or both.
DMV spokesperson Marge Howell said North Carolina has 14 days to appeal to the full district Court of Appeals or 90 days to request a U.S. Supreme Court review of the decision, but had no further information.
“We are confident regardless that ultimately the District Court 4th circuit panel decision will be upheld,” Brook said. “As the opinion states, it’s blatant viewpoint discrimination, at odds with the first amendment. The government can’t come into a contentious political issue and say one side of that political debate is allowed to speak while the other side of the debate is not.”