Illinois Choose Life Plate Supporters File Lawsuit Against State

State   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Jul 1, 2004   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

Illinois Choose Life Plate Supporters File Lawsuit Against State

by Paul Nowak Staff Writer
July 1, 2004

Springfield, IL ( — Choose Life Illinois filed a lawsuit Monday against Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White alleging that the state’s current specialty license plate system allows for discrimination. After receiving far more than the necessary number of signatures to submit an application for a "Choose Life" license plate, the state legislature has not approved the plate in the past two years.

The lawsuit claims that "the entire process for approving special license plates in Illinois has resulted in a standardless, unguided, discretionary system … and allows the issuance of specialty plates with specific messages only if … the viewpoint expressed by the particular message has been deemed favorable by a majority of legislators."

The suit seeks to permanently prevent Secretary White from "awarding, approving, creating, or distributing further any specialty license plates except via a viewpoint neutral and content-neutral set of standards."

"We played by the rules and spent two years trying to move legislation through Springfield and give the General Assembly the chance to do the right thing," said Choose Life Illinois President Jim Finnegan. "It became clear we were not going to get a fair airing in Springfield so our only redress is through the courts."

The state’s failure to pass the "Choose Life" license plate, which would benefit organizations supporting adoption, is particularly disappointing as Choose Life Illinois has collected over 26,000 signatures from Illinois citizens supporting the plate, when the state only requires 850.

"The state of Illinois in effect has made its license plates into mobile ‘public squares’ or — as in London — ‘speakers’ corners,’ where its residents may voice their support for one cause or another," explained Tom Brejcha, president and chief counsel of the Thomas More Society, who is handling the case for Choose Life Illinois.

"Yet, at the same time, the state has given a committee of ‘gatekeepers’ a veto power, or trump card, with which to authorize some speakers and ban others, without even trying to set forth guiding principles or criteria or standards of any sort that would limit the gatekeepers’ censorship," Brehcha said.

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.

Nationally, the tags have raised some $2.6 million to help pay for adoption services, health care and other expenses for pregnant women considering abortion, and other abortion alternatives.

Tennessee and South Carolina have approved "Choose Life" plates, but have not yet made them available to motorists.