AUTOMOBILE LICENSE PLATES
The Center for Reproductive Rights describes their currently active cases before the courts. 1
Three important court cases are:
||Henderson v. Stalder in Louisiana. The
Louisiana law which regulates the Choose Life plates "...stipulates that
no money shall be distributed to organizations that counsel women to consider
abortion, provide referrals to abortion clinics, provide abortions or
advertise for abortion services. The statute also requires the establishment
of a 'Choose Life Advisory Council' to design the license plates and decide
which non-profit organizations will receive funds generated from sale of the
plates. The Council must be comprised of a representative from each of the
following pro-life organizations: The American Family Association; the
Louisiana Family Forum, and the Concerned Women for America." Some of the
key events in the law's legal challenge were:|
||2000-JUL-31: The case was filed by The
Center for Reproductive Rights. Plaintiffs
included Russell Henderson and Doreen Keeler, of Orleans Parish, Rabbi
Robert H. Loewy and the Greater New Orleans Section of the National
Council of Jewish Women. 2
||2000-AUG-29: Federal Judge Stanwood
Richardson Duval, Jr. of the Eastern District of Louisiana granted a
preliminary injunction which blocked production and distribution of
the plates. He wrote: "The right to an abortion is an extremely
controversial issue and is the focus of a national debate. To provide
through legislation for only one viewpoint to be expressed on such a
polemical topic is very likely an unconstitutional restraint of free speech
as it restricts the forum to only one view-that being the view of the State."
||2001-JUN: Two days before the end of the Legislature session,
Senator Diana Jaboie proposed an amendment to a "Choose Life"
license plate bill that would create a "Choose Choice" license
plate. Profits would be given to groups which offered abortion
counseling and services. The legislature took no action on this
||2002-MAR-29: The United States Court of
Appeals for the Fifth Circuit overturned the injunction, ruling that the
plaintiffs lacked standing.
||2002-AUG-15: The Center asked the
Fifth Circuit to delay dismissal of the injunction pending a review by the
U.S. Supreme Court.
||2002-SEP-30: The Center petitioned
the U.S. Supreme Court to review the constitutionality of the Louisiana law.
||2002-DEC-2: The Supreme Court denied the
Center's petition. This permitted the state to start issuing the license
||2003-JAN-8: The United States Court of
Appeals for the Fifth Circuit took an unusual action by stating that
the case may continue in the trial court if the plaintiffs amend their
complaint to 'challenge the state's overall policy and practice of
issuing specialty license plates'." The lead counsel on the case, Simon
Heller, said: "This is an unexpected but welcome turn of events.
Hopefully, we can put an end to the unconstitutional sale of anti-choice
license plates. These plates are a form of government sponsored, anti-choice
propaganda that must be stopped."
||2003-MAR-6: Planned Parenthood, the
National Council of Jewish Women, a rabbi, a Unitarian
Universalist minister and a pro-choice woman filed a lawsuit against
the state of Louisiana. They are asking that the court either throw out the state's
entire specialty plate system, or require the legislature to authorize "Choose
Choice" license plates. They claim that the "Choose Life"
plates represent a symbolic union between the state and conservative
Christians. Thus they violate the separation of
church and state. 3
On 2003-JUL-8, U.S. District judge Stanwood Duval blocked the state from issuing
all current specialty license plates, including the Choose Life
tags. His ruling was based on the First
Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, because the state provides
anti-abortion plates but does not offer plates for opposing views. Judge
Duval wrote: "If the state built a convention hall for speech and then
only allowed people to speak with whom they agreed with their message, the
state's actions would be in contravention of the First Amendment. There is no significant difference in the case before the court."
According to Attorney General Richard Leyoub, the state will appeal the
decision. Steven Johnston, spokesman for Gov. Mike Foster, said: "It
seems like a weird decision to take away the free speech rights of
everybody else who has a specialty plate." William Rittenberg, an
attorney for the plaintiffs, said that specialty plates are not actually
banned. It is just the mechanism by which the state authorizes them which
has been declared unconstitutional. He said the state could follow the
that many other states have used, and issue specialty plates to be issued whenever
a certain number of people request them. 9
||Planned Parenthood of South Carolina v. Rose.
||2001-SEP: The legislature had passed a bill authorizing the sale
of the plates in South Carolina, even though Planned Parenthood of South
Carolina (PPSC) had informed the General Assembly that the bill would be
found unconstitutional unless a corresponding "Pro Choice" plate was
also offered to the public. Governor Jim Hodges signed the bill into law.
||2001-SEP: PPSC and Dr. Renee Carter filed a lawsuit to have the
law declared unconstitutional.
||2001-NOV-19: PPSC obtained a
preliminary injunction on which prevented the law from being
||2002-DEC-26: The U.S. District Court for
the District of South Carolina declared that the law was
unconstitutional. The judge called the law
"a clear manifestation of viewpoint discrimination."
The PPSC web site states: "This ruling will not
prevent individuals from displaying political slogans on their cars with
bumper stickers or license plate frames. It will, however, stop the
appropriation of an official government function — the licensing of vehicles
— for blatantly discriminatory purposes...."According to the court,
the law constitutes unlawful viewpoint discrimination in a private speech
forum by authorizing speech by individuals who wish to communicate the
'Choose Life' message, without authorizing similar speech by pro-choice car
owners." 4 The state has promised to appeal
the decision to the 4th circuit court. 5,6,7 Douglas R.
Scott, president of Life Decisions International -- a pro-life
agency -- referred to Planned Parenthood's criticism of the
plates as "more of the same pathetic whining we've heard year
after year." He suggested a compromise. He is reported as saying
that his agency would not oppose a "Don't Choose Life" or a "Choose
Death" license plate. 12
||2005-JAN: The U.S. Supreme Court let the lower court
||1999-JUN-10: Governor Jeb Bush signed a bill into law that
authorized the state to start distribution of Choose Life license plates.
This was the first state in the nation to do so.
||1999: The South Palm Beach chapter of the National
Organization for Women initiated a lawsuit to block distribution of the
||2000-AUG: The state started selling Choose Life plates.
||2001-JAN: The Women's Emergency
Network initiated a second lawsuit in federal court. It
attacked the distribution of revenue from the Choose Life
program to anti-abortion agencies. The
Center for Reproductive Rights represented the
||2001-NOV: The courts dismissed the NOW lawsuit.
||2002-JUL: A Florida district Court Judge ruled that the
state of Florida could continue to distribute money collected from
the sale of Choose Life plates.
||2002-DEC-19: A Florida appellate court found that the NOW case
had been inappropriately dismissed. The case was revived. 5
Apparently referring to a number of assassinations of abortion
providers in the state, Barry Silver, an attorney representing NOW’s
chapter said: "The big issue for me and my clients is that our
country is faced with terrorism from abroad, but in Florida, we’ve
seen homegrown terrorism specifically by religious fanatics against
abortion clinics, Their slogan of choice is 'Choose Life.' The last
thing we want to do is put the state’s imprimatur on a slogan that
is used to sow violence and domestic terrorism." 10
||2003-JUL: The 11th
Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed the Women's Emergency
Network's appeal of their case.
This essay continues below.
||Ohio: On 2005-APR-27, the American Civil Liberties Union initiated a lawsuit in Cleveland federal court to stop sale of "Choose
Life" license plates which are scheduled to be sold starting in
May. Their objection is that the plates represent "viewpoint
discrimination" which allows only one side to the abortion
conflict to be promoted. John Farnan, spokesperson for Cleveland
Right to Life said that the ACLU's lawsuit reflects "a
hostility both to freedom of speech and religion." 13
||Arizona: For two years, the
Arizona Department of Motor Vehicles considered an application by
the Arizona Life Coalition for "choose life" plates. The
Department finally rejected their request. The Alliance
Defense Fund (ADF) filed a lawsuit Arizona Life Coalition v. Stanton
on behalf of the coalition during 2003-SEP. The state Attorney General's
Office recommended that the lawsuit be dismissed, partly because they
deny free speech to individuals and groups who have alternative beliefs.
District Court for the District of Arizona ruled against the
Coalition on 2005-SEP-27.
The sale by most states of Choose Life license plates is of doubtful
constitutionality for two reasons:
||It denies equivalent freedom of speech to persons and groups who hold
alternative beliefs about abortion.
||In some cases, government money is given directly to religiously sponsored
non-profit groups. In other cases, it is given to a religious organization who
then distributes it to non-profit agencies. Both arrangements violate the principle of
separation of church and state.
There are certain compromises that might be acceptable to the courts and to
all sides in the abortion debate:
||A state could create two license plates: one pro-life and the other
||A state could create a single license plate that simply promoted adoption.
||A state could make any reasonable specialty license available to any
group which is able to obtain sufficient support.
The Louisiana legislature turned down the first option. It is doubtful that
any legislature that was willing to create a Choose Life license plate
would tolerate a pro-choice plate. The Virginia legislature turned down the
second option. They rejected a proposal by Senator John Edwards (D-Roanoke) for
a "Support Adoption" plate. He was concerned about the legal costs to the
state to battle the inevitable legal challenges if a single "Choose Life" plate
were authorized. It is doubtful that the pro-choice and pro-life groups in any
state could agree on a single pro-adoption plate. 8 Maryland adopted
the third option in 1998. It allows
non-profit groups with at least 25 members to apply for a specialty
" 'Choose Life' license plates," Center for Reproductive Rights,
"Lawsuit Filed Against Louisiana Law Creating "Choose Life" License
Plates," Center for Reproductive Rights, 2000-JUL-31, at:
- Susan Finch, "Lawsuit challenges all specialty
car tags: Group hopes to derail 'Choose Life' plate," The Times-Picayune,
Gloria Feldt, "Federal Court in South Carolina Rules 'Choose Life'
License Plate Scheme Violates First Amendment: State Government Cannot Sponsor
One-Sided Speech Forum," Planned Parenthood®
- "Courts Renew Debate Over 'Choose Life'
License Plates," TownHall.com, a conservative news and information source,
- Greg Hoadley, "South Carolina 'Choose Life'
License Plates Called Unconstitutional," Reclaiming America, 2003-JAN-3,
- "License plate backers not worried about ruling,"
Associated Press, 2003-JAN-3, at:
- Justin Bergman, "[Virginia] Senate passes
''Choose Life' license plate bill," Associated Press, 2003-FEB-18, at:
Cain Burdeau, "Judge Blocks La. Specialty
License Plates," Yahoo News, 2003-JUL-10, at:
"South Carolina Judge Rules Anti-Abortion License Plates
Unconstitutional," Feminist Majority Foundation, 2003-JAN-6, at:
"Federal Court to Hear Free Speech Challenge Against Florida 'Choose
Life' License Plates," The Center for
Reproductive Rights, 2001-JAN-30, at:
"Planned Parenthood's Position on Plates Called 'Pathetic'," Life
Decisions International, 2002-DEC-30, at:
"ACLU Challenges Law Authorizing 'Choose Life' Plates. License Plate
Sales Due To Begin Next Month," Associated Press, 2005-APR-27, at:
"ADF attorneys vow to appeal ruling against 'Choose Life" license
plates,' Alliance Defense Fund, 2005-SEP-27, at:
Copyright © 2003 to 2005 by Ontario Consultants on Religious
Originally written: 2003-MAR-1
Latest update: 2005-SEP-28
Author: B.A. Robinson