Louisiana License Plate System, Choose Life Plate Get Court Hearing
by Paul Nowak
LifeNews.com Staff Writer
April 7, 2004
Baton Rouge, LA (LifeNews.com) — A lawsuit that would strike down Louisiana’s entire specialty license plate program because of a pro-adoption "Choose Life" plate will come before a federal appeals court Wednesday.
Last July, U.S. District Judge Stanwood Duval said the “Choose Life” plates, which benefit groups that help women in crisis pregnancies, do not offer both points of view on the abortion debate in the public forum of license plates. Organizations that preform or recommend abortion are not eligible to receive the funding.
"If the state built a convention hall for speech and then only allowed people to speak with whom they agreed with their message, the state’s actions would be in contravention of the First Amendment,” Duval wrote. "There is no significant difference in the case before the court.”
The state argued that the law allowing specialty plates was a state right and didn’t violate the First Amendment. Louisiana has about 150 specialty license plates that raise $25 per plate for numerous charities.
Duval also blocked sale of the Choose Life plates in 2000. However, the plates went on sale following a decision by 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturning his ruling. The appeals court said the suit would be dismissed unless it challenged the whole plate system.
Abortion advocates had also proposed a "Choose Choice" tag, but it failed in the Legislature in 2002. Had that plate passed, the suit would have been dropped.
Having lost the debate on the specific plates, abortion advocates challenged the entire Louisiana plate system.
Kathleen Benfield of the American Family Association of New Orleans, told LifeNews.com, "this lawsuit demonstrates the utter desperation of those who support the killing of unborn children. They feel that they must squelch the message of hope and life that the Choose Life Plate represents and stop the distribution of the funds donated from the plate which will go to assist women who choose life."
Duval’s order allows those who already have “Choose Life” plates to keep them, and to renew their specialty plates as well.
Ten states currently have "Choose Life" plates on residents’ cars: Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Hawaii, Arkansas, Connecticut, Maryland, and Louisiana, and Montana. It is estimated some 40,000 plates have been sold nationwide.
Tennessee and South Carolina have approved "Choose Life" plates, but have not yet made them available to motorists.