by Steven Ertelt
January 11, 2005
Albany, NY (LifeNews.com) — A federal judge has refused to dismiss a civil rights lawsuit filed by a pro-adoption group after the state of New York refused to allow it to move forward with a Choose Life license plate. The group has accused state officials of discrimination.
After two hours of oral arguments, the judge decided against a motion by the state to dismiss the lawsuit, saying the adoption group has sufficiently alleged constitutional violations.
"New York’s specialty license plate scheme is subject to rampant abuse," said Alliance Defense Fund attorney Mike Johnson, who argued before the court on behalf of The Children First Foundation (CFF), the organization that brought the suit.
"The state has no objective standards to govern the DMV’s decision regarding whether an eligible organization’s plate design is approved. The denial of The Children First Foundation’s design is a prime example of the discrimination that can occur," explained Johnson.
A full hearing on the lawsuit will be held in August 2005.
The New York Department of Motor Vehicles rejected CFF’s design in August 2002 — considering it "too political and controversial" to approve. The organization redesigned the plate, adding the group’s web site to it to better explain its purpose, and the DMV rejected it again.
New York officials considered the plate a one-sided message from a group that opposes abortion and noted that a plate promoting abortion has not been proposed.
Joe Picchi, a spokesman for the Department of Motor Vehicles, told the Journal News that "It’s obviously a sensitive issue and an issue that we should not be taking sides on in a license plate."
"The lawsuit will go forward," Johnson said. "The state didn’t meet its burden for dismissal, so we look forward to the next round in this battle for free speech and equal treatment under the law."
The DMV has temporarily suspended review of specialty plates — a move that Elizabeth Rex of the Children First Foundation says was done specifically to block the Choose Life plate.
Picchi contends the decision was made in order to create a better approval process.
The lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of New York. Defendants in the suit include Governor George Pataki and Attorney General Eliot Spitzer.
Thirteen states have adopted Choose Life license plates, where proceeds benefit pro-life groups, adoption agencies, and pregnancy help centers. Those states include Alabama, Arkansas, Connecticut, Florida, Hawaii, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, Montana, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota and Tennessee.
License plates backing abortion have been approved in Hawaii and Montana.