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