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NC asks US Supreme Court to affirm right to issue ‘Choose Life’ license plates

ADF attorneys represent NC speaker of the House, Senate president pro tempore

WASHINGTON – Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys and allied attorneys representing Thom Tillis, speaker of the North Carolina House of Representatives, and Phil Berger, president pro tempore of the North Carolina Senate, asked the U.S. Supreme Court Friday to consider whether the First Amendment empowers abortion supporters to demand that the state censor “Choose Life” license plates.

ADF attorneys are defending the plates together with Scott Gaylord, one of more than 2,400 attorneys allied with ADF and an associate professor of law at Elon University School of Law.

“State governments have a right to advance messages consistent with their public policies,” said ADF Senior Counsel Casey Mattox. “The Supreme Court has already affirmed that right. North Carolinians support protecting life and helping pregnant women in need; the First Amendment does not require the state to bow to demands that it censor the ‘Choose Life’ message.”

“Across the country, groups like the ACLU have tried to use the high court’s First Amendment speech cases to censor government expression,” Gaylord added. “Such efforts are not only inconsistent with the purpose of the First Amendment, but also with the Supreme Court’s government speech precedents.”

In 2011, the North Carolina General Assembly authorized a “Choose Life” specialty license plate. Citizens who voluntarily choose the plate pay an additional $25 fee, $15 of which goes to the Carolina Pregnancy Care Fellowship, a private organization that supports the needs of pregnant women in North Carolina. The state offers other specialty plates that also fund causes that benefit the state and are consistent with its public policies.

Hundreds of North Carolinians requested the plates, but before North Carolina could begin issuing them, the ACLU challenged the law. The ACLU argued that the “Choose Life” plate must be censored because the state did not also issue a license plate that encourages abortion, even though encouraging abortions is contrary to the state’s interests and public policy.

The U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina prohibited the state from issuing the plates, and in February 2014, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit upheld the decision.

“The 4th Circuit’s decision is at odds with other circuits that have upheld the right of states to issue such plates,” said ADF Senior Counsel David Cortman. “As the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed as recently as 2009, the government ‘has the right to speak for itself…and to select the views that it wants to express.’”

The petition filed with the U.S. Supreme Court in Berger v. American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina also explains that the high court’s 1992 Planned Parenthood v. Casey decision affirmed that the government has the right to ‘promote the State’s profound interest in potential life.’”

When the North Carolina Attorney General’s Office chose not to ask the Supreme Court to review the case, the 4th Circuit granted the request of Tillis and Berger to defend the plates by seeking the Supreme Court’s review.

  • Pronunciation guide: Mattox (MAT’-ucks)

Alliance Defending Freedom is an alliance-building, non-profit legal organization that advocates for the right of people to freely live out their faith.


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