by Steven Ertelt
March 17, 2006
Nashville, TN (LifeNews.com) — A federal appeals court ruled on Friday that the state of Tennessee can sell Choose Life license plates even though the state legislature rejected a pro-abortion version. The court called the lawmakers’ decision "one-sided" but not an unconstitutional violation of the First Amendment.
The pro-abortion ACLU filed suit against the license plates, which raise money for pregnancy centers, in 2003 and a lower court said the plates were unconstitutional. The appeals court overturned that decision.
"Although this exercise of government one-sidedness with respect to a very contentious political issue may be ill-advised, we are unable to conclude that the Tennessee statute contravenes the First Amendment," Judge John Rogers wrote for the 2-1 majority.
The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati went on to say, "Government can express public policy views by enlisting private volunteers to disseminate its message."
"[T]here is no principle under which the First Amendment can be read to prohibit government from doing so because the views are particularly controversial or politically divisive," the court added.
Other courts have been divided on the issue of Choose Life license plates.
The Supreme Court did not take a case out of South Carolina that essentially allowed to stand an appeals court ruling striking down the plates there. Choose Life plates in Louisiana have been upheld in another ruling by a federal appeals court.
Drivers can purchase the plates for their automobiles and some of the money spent goes to New Life Resources, a Nashville-based group that helps women in crisis or unplanned pregnancy situations. None of the money can go to groups that perform or promote abortions.
During hearings before the appeals court, pro-life attorney Jim Bopp told the panel that the legislature has the right to certify license plate it approves and is under no obligation to back others.
Brian Harris, president of Tennessee Right to Life, says the plates serve a beneficial purpose.
"Tennessee’s Choose Life plate is clearly a program in which the legislators overwhelmingly agreed that providing practical assistance to women facing difficult pregnancies was both benevolent and appropriate," said Harris.
The Choose Life plate passed overwhelmingly in the final days of the 2003 legislative session 80-14 in the state House and 26-4 in the state Senate. Gov. Phil Bredesen allowed the measure to become law without his signature.
Supporters of the plate quickly presented more than the required pre-paid applications and submitted 1,265 applications in just six months representing drivers from each of the
state’s 95 counties. Those applications were being held by the Tennessee Department of Safety pending the outcome of the Choose Life lawsuit.
Related web sites:
Tennessee Right to Life – https://www.tnrtl.org