Attorney General Roy Cooper today filed a notice of appeal of Senior U.S. District Court Judge James C. Fox’s December 7 ruling that the state’s offering of a specialty “Choose Life” license plate to drivers, without a corresponding plate supportive of reproductive freedom, was unconstitutional.
“It’s unfortunate that the state has chosen to prolong what is really a very clear-cut First Amendment issue,” said Chris Brook, Legal Director for the American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina Legal Foundation — a plaintiff in the case. “The Fourth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has consistently ruled that anytime the government creates an avenue for private speech, it cannot restrict that avenue to only one side of a contentious debate. This case is ultimately about the right of North Carolinians of all political beliefs to have equal access to avenues for the free expression of ideas, and we look forward to making our arguments before the Court of Appeals.”
After the legislature approved the “Choose Life” license plate in 2011, some members proposed amendments that would authorize an additional plate stating “Trust Women. Respect Choice,” or simply “Respect Choice.” The legislature rejected all those amendments.
In the case before Judge Fox, the state argued in part that the “Choose Life” plate was protected government speech and thus constitutional. Fox, though, called that argument a “stretch,” given that the state advertised the specialty plate program as a chance for North Carolina drivers “to show off [their] special interests,” and held 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.”