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Dec 13 2012

Judge Rules ‘Choose Life’ Plates Unconstitutional

A federal judge has ruled that North Carolina can’t offer a license plate that says “Choose Life” without also allowing a pro-choice license plate option for drivers in that state. The state legislature voted for a bill to authorize such plates, but rejected at least six attempts to authorize offering a pro-choice plate.

U.S. District Court Judge James C. Fox ruled on Friday that North Carolina cannot produce or distribute the “Choose Life” plate.

Judge Fox concluded, “The State’s offering of a Choose Life license plate in the absence of a pro-choice plate constitutes viewpoint discrimination in violation of the First Amendment.”

The American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina Legal Foundation had filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina in Sept. 2011 on behalf of North Carolinians seeking a specialty license plate that supports a woman’s right to reproductive freedom.

You can read the full ruling here. This was a very easy case. I don’t see how the state could have thought it would end any other way.

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  1. 1
    Gretchen

    I saw this on the news last night. It was followed up by a comment to the effect that here in Kansas, we have no such ideologically-based license plates being sold. We just have this one right here that says “IN GOD WE TRUST” on it!

    *sigh*

  2. 2
    fifthdentist

    I’ve been told that here in Georgia “In Gob We Trust” is the default license plate, and that to get a plate without it is considered a “specialty” one that requires paying extra. I’ve not had to get a new one yet, so can’t speak to the veracity of that. However, if that is the case it should be a slam-dunk in court.

  3. 3
    Marcus Ranum

    Damn it. And I wanted sharia plates.

  4. 4
    eric

    I liked the bit on p19 where the Judge points out that the government’s legal argument (“its purely government speech”) is undermined by the government’s own web site, which says it isn’t. D’oh!
    .
    Very wierd that the state has no regulatory or bureaucratic framework for speciality license plates; every single one of them has to be voted on by the state government.

  5. 5
    eric

    @2 – might not be the slam dunk you think it is. If the application process for specialty plates is content-neutral, then I think the “its the US motto” defense would probably let them get away with In God We Trust being the default plate.

  6. 6
    Doug Little

    What the fuck have they got against George Michael and Wham!

  7. 7
    bobaho

    Damn Librul Judge…

    Fox was nominated by President Ronald Reagan to a new United States District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina. It should be noted that the two senators from NC were Jesse Helms and John East and without their support, his appointment would have been impossible.

  8. 8
    Deen

    I’m still not sure where this urge to have messages on license plates comes from in the first place. If you want slogans on your car, can’t you just buy a bumper sticker?

  9. 9
    Michael Heath

    Judge Fox is an ’82 Reagan nominee from North Carolina. The 97th Congress N.C. Senators were both Republicans, John East and the always memorable Jess Helms.

    I note the Senators because back then judicial nominees from the state getting the federal judge were generally sponsored by that state’s U.S. Senators if they were the same party as the president, which they were here. Or at least get their OK if the parties between the Administration and the Senators differed. I don’t think the latter is followed much anymore.

    The most infamous “goof” which turned out very well for the country but harmed the conservative agenda was President George H.W. Bush nominating David Souter to the Supreme Court because he was sponsored by his home-state’s Republican Senator. While Souter served fairly consistent with how moderate Republicans like H.W. Bush behaved back then and prior, the elder Bush didn’t give a shit about judicial nominations and instead preferred currying favor with conservatives with his nominations. So from his perspective it was a back-fire.

    Not taking his responsibility seriously when it came to judicial nominations was one of the few common characteristics between the H.W. and W.

  10. 10
    watry

    @fifthdentist

    Nope. Default is still discrimination-less, unless it’s changed very, very recently. DMV website search and my own recent Georgia plates say the same.

  11. 11
    Reginald Selkirk

    eric #5: … then I think the “its the US motto” defense would probably let them get away with In God We Trust being the default plate.

    You could insist on equal representation for “e pluribus unum,” which is also the US motto, and has a much longer tradition.

  12. 12
    Gvlgeologist, FCD

    Florida has the same plate. Are we up next to get rid of this idiocy?

    And, FWIW, my understanding is that the police hate the multitudes of specialty plates. Makes it more difficult to determine the state of origin.

  13. 13
    tommykey

    Maybe the license plate was meant to endorse a brand of breakfast cereal? LOL!

    Or its proponents could have tried arguing that “choose life” was up to the interpretation of the reader? “Choose life. Drive more carefully so that you don’t kill anyone!”

  14. 14
    DonDueed

    Massachusetts plates have the legend “The Spirit of America”.

    Not sure what it means. I think it’s either referring to John Adams’ ghost, or a cologne.

  15. 15
    Reginald Selkirk

    Massachusetts plates have the legend “The Spirit of America”.

    I’ll bet Kentucky, and Jack Daniels, is unhappy about that.

  16. 16
    d.c.wilson

    Does New Hampshire still put “Live Free or Die” on their license plates?

    Ed:

    You can read the full ruling here. This was a very easy case. I don’t see how the state could have thought it would end any other way.

    It’s North Carolina.

  17. 17
    Modusoperandi

    “…without also allowing a pro-choice license plate option for drivers in that state.”

    And to save time, you can just vandalize your car yourself.

  18. 18
    eric

    Maybe the license plate was meant to endorse a brand of breakfast cereal? LOL!

    I see a market for some bumper stickers people can put next to their plate. “…not Cheerios” and “…not Monopoly” being the first two to spring to mind.

  19. 19
    John Hinkle

    The American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina Legal Foundation had filed a lawsuit…

    OMG those evil bastards! Is there nothing they won’t do to kill pre-born babies? Oh wait, is that supposed to be Planned Parenthood? Whatever, burn them!

    …which is also the US motto, and has a much longer tradition.

    Hey, there might be children reading!

    I’ll bet Kentucky, and Jack Daniels, is unhappy about that.

    I think Jack is Tennessee, if I recall. In either case both states should be pissed, in the British sense of course.

  20. 20
    paulhutch

    We’ve had the “Choose Life” plates available in MA for a couple years now and no pro-choice selection available. I suspect none of the pro-choice groups felt it would be worth while to do there own vanity plate.

    @DonDueed “The Spirit of America” slogan on MA plates came from a 1987 tourism advertising jingle.
    Watch it on YouTube if you dare.

  21. 21
    eric

    I suspect none of the pro-choice groups felt it would be worth while to do there own vanity plate.

    I think in most states the proposers have to demonstrate a certain demand. I.e., get enough signatures or other evidence that X number of people will buy the plate. As long as the criteria are the same for each group, that’s a very reasonable, very content-neutral system. If it leads to some ideologies being represented but not others, I have no problem with that.

  1. 22
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