A federal judge ruled on Friday that North Carolina’s anti-abortion “Choose Life” license plates violated the First Amendment of the United States Constitution.
In his 21-page opinion (PDF), U.S. District Court Judge James C. Fox said that the state Legislature’s decision to offer a “Choose Life” license plate while refusing to offer a pro-choice alternative “constitutes viewpoint discrimination in violation of the First Amendment.”
North Carolina began offering the plates in 2011 as one of 79 specialty plates approved by the Republican-controlled legislature and signed by Democratic Gov. Bev Perdue. Fifteen dollars of the extra $25 specialty plate fee went to Carolina Pregnancy Care Fellowship, a private group of “pregnancy care ministries.”
Lawmakers rejected six abortion rights amendments that would have authorized plates that said “Respect Choice” or “Trust Women. Respect Choice.”
The American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina (ACLU-NCLF), which sued on behalf of several groups, praised Fox’s decision on Monday.
“This is a great victory for the free speech rights of all North Carolinians, regardless of their point of view on reproductive freedom,” ACLU-NCLF Legal Director Chris Brook said in a statement. “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.”
Republican state Rep. Mitch Gillespie, who sponsored the “Choose Life” plate, vowed to urge the North Carolina Attorney General’s Office to file an appeal.