Supreme Court Lets Stand Ruling in Illinois Choose Life License Plate Case
by Steven Ertelt
October 5, 2009
Washington, DC (LifeNews.com) – The Supreme Court today let stand a ruling in a case involving Choose Life license plates in Illinois. The decision means that the Illinois officials who declined to issue the license plates in Illinois have won a legal victory against the pro-life advocates who wanted the plates to raise funds for adoptions.
Despite the refusal to hear the case, motorists in 24 states can buy Choose Life license plates and 14 more states are working on them.
An appeals court ruled last November that Illinois officials who don’t want to issue Choose Life license plates for state motorists don’t have to do so.
The appeals court overturned a ruling issued by a federal judge who denied a request by Secretary of State Jesse White to stall on producing the plates.
The appellate court said state officials are within their rights to keep the abortion debate off Illinois license plates, even though other states have approved the plates.
Choose Life Illinois filed suit in federal district court, which ruled that the state violated Choose Life’s First Amendment rights by refusing to approve the plate. Illinois officials appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit, which reversed the lower court’s decision.
In April, attorneys from the Thomas More Society filed a petition asking the U.S. Supreme Court to review and reverse the 7th Circuit Appeals Court’s decision.
Brejcha noted another appeals court that upheld the rights of citizens in another state to purchase Choose Life plates and said the Supreme Court needs to create a consistent application of constitutional law nationwide.
"The right of Arizona citizens to purchase ‘Choose Life’ specialty plates was recently upheld by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, which ruled that denial of the plates constituted ‘viewpoint discrimination.’ The Seventh Circuit held the contrary, yet the First Amendment must mean the same thing throughout the entire United States," he said.
Though the odds against the Supreme Court agreeing to hear any given appeal may seem overwhelming — only 1 of every 120 petitions has been granted in recent years — Brejcha and pro-life advocates were hopeful.
They said the high court likes to get involved when lower courts are at odds with each other.
"If anything, our clients’ claim against Illinois is overripe for review," Brejcha said at the time. "Our petition for review highlights the fact that litigation concerning the ‘Choose Life’ plates over the last ten years has created a patchwork of conflicting decisions. We will be greatly surprised, as well as disappointed, if the Court fails to grant review."
Attorneys with the Alliance Defense Fund had also filed a brief in the case.
“Pro-life and pro-adoption organizations shouldn’t be censored just because not everyone agrees with their viewpoint,” ADF senior legal counsel Steven Aden told LifeNews.com.
“The State of Illinois cannot treat the ‘Choose Life’ message differently than it treats other messages that advocate causes in a program that is open to all non-profit organizations. To do so is classic viewpoint discrimination, which is unquestionably unconstitutional," he said.
Other federal appeals courts have upheld the First Amendment rights of “Choose Life” plates in other states, Aden explained
The appeals claimed Illinois is only restricting content and not the First Amendment free speech rights of the pro-life advocates behind the license plates.
The ruling revised a decision by Judge David Coar, who determined that the state must issue the specialty license plates as long as the sponsors of it meet normal requirements on the design and number of motorists wanting one.
The appeals court also said a new state law the Illinois General Assembly passed requiring specialty plate applicants to get a bill approved in the legislature and have the governer sign it now takes precedence. As such, petitioners can no longer use the Secretary of State to get the plates approved but must go through the legislature.
Over 25,000 Illinois citizens had signed petitions for the “Choose Life” plate, with proceeds funding Illinois adoption agencies to help children find lifetime homes with loving families.
The state has issued 60 specialty plates ranging from pet lovers to environmental causes but efforts to get the plate approved by Illinois authorities were frustrated at every turn.
Bills introduced in the General Assembly were diverted to a special subcommittee where they died without any hearing.
Secretary of State Jesse White claimed he did not have power to approve the plate himself, and when the federal trial court ruled that he did have such authority the legislature approved a new law requiring legislative approval for every new plate.
Related web sites:
Alliance Defense Fund – http://www.telladf.org
Thomas More Society – http://www.thomasmoresociety.org
Choose Life Illinois – http://www.ilchoose-life.org
Choose Life Inc – http://www.choose-life.org
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