by Steven Ertelt
September 27, 2004
Nashville, TN (LifeNews.com) — A federal judge in Tennessee ruled last week that the state’s "Choose Life" specialty license plate is unconstitutional, but did not rule on the entire specialty plate system. The judge said lawmakers were wrong to sanction a pro-life license plate, but not one backing abortion.
"The result in this case would be the same if the statute authorized a ‘Pro-Choice’ license plate instead of the ‘Choose Life’ license plate," U.S. District Judge Todd Campbell wrote in his decision. "Either way, it is unconstitutional."
Planned Parenthood and the ACLU filed a lawsuit against the plate saying the state was wrong to endorse the pro-life viewpoint while denying a plate supporting abortion. Lawmakers twice voted down amendments to the Choose Life license plate bill that would have authorized the creation of a "pro-choice" plate.
ACLU attorney George Barrett told the Associated Press his group was pleased with the decision.
"It was a very well-reasoned and thought-out opinion that vindicated the Constitution," Barrett said.
But Brian Harris, president of Tennessee Right to Life, opposed the ruling.
"I think that it’s a great irony to claim to protect free speech by eliminating it," he said. "That’s exactly what has occurred in this case."
Harris said he expects the pro-life group will file an appeal. "[W]e have already committed to appeal at every possible level."
According to state figures, 1,265 Choose Life plates have been sold since the plate first went on sale, though none of the plates have been made because of the lawsuit. Proceeds from sales of the plate benefit more than 50 pregnancy centers that help women in various pregnancy situations.
Gov. Phil Bredesen allowed the Choose Life plate legislation to become law without his signature.
The ACLU is suing to overturn the entire affinity license plate system, which could cost as much as $6.7 million in benefit for non-profit groups that rely on income from sales of the plates. To replenish those funds, Bredesen include additional funds in his budget for those groups affected by the lawsuit.
However, because the Choose Life plates haven’t yet been produced, any proceeds from plate sales won’t be reimbursed in Bredesen’s budget.
The Tennessee state legislature approved the plates by votes of 26-4 in the Senate and 80-14 in the House in 2003.
Related web sites:
Tennessee Right to Life – https://www.tnrtl.org