by Steven Ertelt
January 30, 2005
Nashville, TN (LifeNews.com) — The fate of Choose Life license plates in Tennessee is still uncertain, even after the Supreme Court earlier this week chose not to get involved in a similar legal battle brewing in South Carolina.
A federal judge ruled in September 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.
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.
Tennessee Right to Life appealed the judge’s ruling and a spokesman says the Supreme Court decision has no bearing on the outcome of the Tennessee legal battle.
"[The South Carolina case] doesn’t really impact our cause," Tennessee Right to Life president Brian Harris told the Nashville City Paper. "We’re continuing to go forward and hope the court will see the plates are constitutionally sound. … I don’t think you can read a whole lot into the fact that the [Supreme] court didn’t take the case."
Harris said he expected a federal appeals court to consider the Tennessee case in the next few months.
State ACLU executive director Hedy Weinberg agreed and told the Nashville paper that that the lawsuit is "still very much active."
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 abortion advocates are suing to overturn the entire affinity license plate system, which could cost as much as $6.7 million in benefit for nonprofit 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