Judge Rules North Carolina Can’t Sell “Choose Life” License Plates Without Offering Pro-Choice Option

If North Carolina wants to bring the abortion debate to state license plates, it must do so even-handedly a federal judge ruled.

In 2011, the state approved 80 specialty plates, including a “Choose Life” plate. Each “Choose Life” plate cost $25, of which $15 was to go to the Carolina Pregnancy Care Fellowship, an association of crisis pregnancy centers. The American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina Legal Foundation (ACLU-NCLF) sued to block the anti-abortion plates, arguing they violated the First Amendment because the state offered no similar plates for abortion-rights supporters and therefore was unlawfully promoting one political view over another. The court agreed.

“This court concludes … that 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,” Judge James Fox said in his ruling.

The ACLU-NCLF celebrated the ruling. “This is a great victory for the free speech rights of all North Carolinians, regardless of their point of view on reproductive freedom,” said Chris Brook, legal director of the ACLU-NCLF in a statement. “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. We are very pleased that the court agrees that such a one-sided scheme constituted viewpoint discrimination and violated the First Amendment. We would have made the exact same argument if the situation was reversed, and the state planned on issuing a pro-choice plate while not offering one expressing the opposite point of view.”

Officials for the state said they will likely appeal the ruling.

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  • purplemistydez

    Fair is fair.  If NC offers anti-choice citizens their type of plates, then the pro-choice citizens should have the offer of their type.  The judge ruled correctly.

  • twocats

    I agree purplemistydez.  The whole vanity license plate is  a source of chaos but the government can’t be preferring one point of view and exclude the opposite point of  view in a public forum that it created.

  • jennifer-starr

    The judge absolutely ruled correctly. Hoping that they will allow the pro-choice option, but my bet is that they’ll simply get sulky and just do away with the license plates altogether.