For several weeks now, the state’s “Choose Life” license plate case — pending for potential review at the U.S. Supreme Court — has been scheduled for consideration by the justices during conference and then relisted for a later date.
It now appears, though, that consideration of the case will be on hold while the high court reviews a similar case out of Texas which the justices accepted last Friday, according to SCOTUSblog’s Lyle Denniston:
“The Court was asked in the Texas case, and in a separate North Carolina case that is now apparently being kept on hold, to clarify a split among federal appeals courts on whether vanity plate messages are to be treated as government or private expressions.”
In the Texas case, Walker v. Sons of Confederate Veterans, the state is defending the refusal by a state agency to allow plates displaying the confederate flag as offensive to some people. The Sons of Confederate Veterans sued, and says Denniston, “ultimately won a decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, declaring that specialty plate messages are a form of private speech, and that the state agency had engaged in forbidden viewpoint discrimination.”
In North Carolina’s license plate case, Berger v. ACLU, critics said that by offering a “Choose Life” plate but not a similar pro-choice one the state had likewise engaged in viewpoint discrimination.
U.S. District Judge James C. Fox agreed, ruling in December 2012 that the state’s offering of a Choose Life license plate in the absence of a pro-choice plate violated the First Amendment, and the Fourth Circuit agreed.
Argument in the Texas case will likely be in the spring.