Federal judge blocks North Carolina 'choose life' license plates

[JURIST] A judge for the US District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina [official website] ordered an injunction on Monday to prevent North Carolina from issuing specialty license plates that display a pro-life message, signifying a victory [press release] for the American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina Legal Foundation (ACLU-NCLF) [advocacy website]. The judge declared that the "Choose Life" license plates were an expression of private speech rather than government speech which would have allowed the North Carolina General Assembly [official website] to regulate the message. The judge's ruling was a response to the lawsuit [JURIST report] filed by ACLU-NCLF claiming that the legislature's authorization of the June bill [HB 289 materials] violates the First Amendment [text] guarantee of free speech by supporting a pro-life message while refusing to approve an additional license plate reading 'Respect Choice' which would indicate advocacy of reproductive rights. Katy Parker, the political director for the ACLU-NCLF, praised the court's decision:

This case is ultimately about free speech and equal treatment for all North Carolinians, regardless of their point of view on abortion. The state should not be allowed to use its authority to promote one side of a debate while denying the same opportunity to the other side. We look forward to continuing our arguments in this case, and hope the court agrees that the First Amendment prohibits the blatant type of viewpoint discrimination the state has proposed through this one-sided license plate scheme.
A federal court struck down similar pro-life license plate messages in South Carolina, ordering the state to pay Planned Parenthood [advocacy website] for legal fees.

Abortion continues to be an extremely controversial issue in North Carolina. In October, a federal district court judge blocked [JURIST report] a provision of a state abortion law [HB 854 materials] that required a physician to perform an ultrasound and describe the images to the patient. This law, known as the "Woman's Right to Know Act" also requires a 24-hour waiting period for women seeking an abortion. In June, North Carolina Governor Beverly Perdue [official website] vetoed the bill [JURIST report], calling it "a dangerous intrusion into the confidential relationship that exists between women and their doctors." In July, however, both the House and Senate [JURIST reports] voted to override the veto, allowing the legislation to become North Carolina law. Opponents of the law have called it "draconian" and have stated that women seeking abortions will face dramatic changes once the law takes effect, while supporters contend that the new law will give women the opportunity to "know all the facts" about abortion.

 

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