South Carolina Takes Choose Life License Plate to Supreme Court

State   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Jan 20, 2005   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

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by Steven Ertelt Editor
January 20, 2005

Washington, DC ( — South Carolina’s Choose Life license plate is headed to the U.S. Supreme Court. State officials are asking the high court to uphold the plates from a First Amendment challenge issued by abortion advocacy groups upset that the plates favor one side of the abortion issue.

On Friday, the nation’s top court is expected to consider whether to take on dozens of lawsuits, including an appeal of a ruling striking down the law that saved the life of Terri Schiavo.

South Carolina officials hope their appeal of a decision overturning a bill authorizing the plates is one of the cases the top court considers.

Passed in 2001, the measure would allow state residents to spend $70 on the specialty plates and part of the funds would go to groups that help women find alternatives to abortion.

However, shortly after the measure took effect, Planned Parenthood filed a lawsuit contending that the plates discriminate against those who support abortion.

South Carolina officials responded that the abortion business had no standing to sue because it had no proposed a plate of its own, but a district court disagreed.

Last year, the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the district court’s decision overturning the Choose Life plates. South Carolina filed a motion to reconsider the ruling, but the court voted 8-5 against it.

The appeals court’s ruling is at odds with a ruling I a similar case issued by the 5th Circuit Court, which ruled that abortion advocates in Louisiana had no standing to sue in a similar Choose Life plate case. The Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal in the Louisiana case.

South Carolina Attorney General Henry McMaster, in a brief to the Supreme Court, says the appeals court ruling would require the state to take an opposing view on any matter decided by the legislature.

He brought up the standing issue again in the brief and says the issue should be resolved by the Supreme Court because it also affects Choose Life plates in other states.

McMaster also cites previous Supreme Court decisions allowing states to take a position in favor of childbirth over abortion, such as issuing pro-life proclamations. He explained that the Choose Life plates fall under those rulings.

Holly Gatling, director of South Carolina Citizens for Life, told she agrees.

"Numerous U.S. Supreme Court cases have held that the state has a right to prefer childbirth over abortion. Our Choose Life license plate legislation sends the positive message that South Carolina is a place where life is valued and a state where our values are not only respected, but reflected in our government," said Gatling.
Planned Parenthood claims it did ask the state legislature to authorize plates backing abortion, but says its request was rejected.

Planned Parenthood lawyer Roger Evans disagrees with McMaster’s contention that the plates are government speech that is protected and not viewpoint discrimination.

"When citizens display the ‘Choose Life’ plates, they will not be speaking as and for the government program, they will be speaking for themselves," Evans told the Legal Times.

Related web sites:
South Carolina Citizens for Life –