"Choose Life" license plates struck down by Circuit Court
North Carolina has terminated a piece of anti-abortion legislation, just over two years after it was passed into law.
In a unanimous decision, the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled last week to strike down a law that allowed the production of anti-abortion “choose life” license plates but prohibited pro-abortion rights license plates. Circuit Judge James Wynn wrote in the 3-0 opinion that the law violated the first amendment, describing the legislation’s rejection of pro-abortion rights plates as viewpoint discrimination.
“In this case, North Carolina seeks to...privilege speech on one side of a hotly debated issue—reproductive choice—while silencing opposing voices,” Wynn wrote in the opinion.
Mike Meno, communications director for the plaintiff, the American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina, said the decision was straightforward.
“This is something that we have said all along is a very clear-cut first amendment issue,” Meno said. “The court agreed with us. This was a very strongly-worded, unanimous, three-way decision.”
The North Carolina state attorney general’s office could not be reached for comment.
North Carolina has yet to decide whether it will appeal the decision, Meno said. If the state appeals, the case would be read by the United States Supreme Court.
Jeff Powell, a professor at the School of Law said although the decision was unanimous, it could still be overturned if it reaches the Supreme Court.
Meno noted an appeal by the state would be an unwise use of taxpayer money.
“The taxpayers of North Carolina probably don’t want to see the state spending more resources on what is a blatant violation of the first amendment,” he said.
Powell said that whether or not the bill survives judicial scrutiny, the legislature has expressed its view on the abortion issue.
“It is often the case in legislation...that legislators are doing something other than putting in place a law that they think will last,” he said. “[These laws] serve the purpose of symbolically showing that a legislature holds a certain view.”
Meno shared a similar view, saying the now defunct law was created for political reasons.
“There are lots of anti-choice legislators in the assembly,” he said. “[They] tried to advocate one ideological viewpoint over another.”
Meno added that the case was an important victory for free speech.
“Any citizen should be concerned when the government gets into deciding what private opinions people can and cannot express,” he said.