by Steven Ertelt
January 24, 2008
Jefferson City, MO (LifeNews.com) — A federal district court judge has ruled that Missouri officials must let a proposal for Choose Life license plates move forward despite a rejection from a committee of lawmakers. Using a new 2004 law that allows lawmakers to block nonprofit groups seeking specialty license plates, two Missouri state senators halted the plates in February 2006.
The rejection was the first time lawmakers prevented a group from pursuing plates after passing a bill that made it so every plate did not need special legislation to be approved.
The law allows any member of the Joint Committee on Transportation Oversight or any two state senators or five House members to stop a plate. Democratic Sens. Joan Bray and Rita Heard Days, both St. Louis abortion advocates, objected to the plates.
The group behind the plates, which provide funds to pregnancy centers from the sales of them, appealed the decision in a lawsuit filed in June 2006.
Senior U.S. District Judge Scott Wright ruled on Wednesday that Choose Life of Missouri Inc. can move forward with the plates. It also declared the law allowing the lawmakers to stop them unconstitutional saying there are no safeguards from the state discriminating against some groups of people, such as pro-life advocates.
The statute does not provide the Joint Committee with specific standards or guidelines upon which to base their decisions and no explanation is required for a denial of ones application. As a result, [the statute] is unconstitutionally vague and overbroad, Judge Wright wrote.
Joel Oster, the group’s attorney and an lawyer at the Alliance Defense Fund, told LifeNews.com that, "Pro-life organizations shouldnt be penalized for expressing their beliefs."
Unfortunately, thats how Missouri officials unfairly discriminated when they denied Choose Life the right to exercise their free speech rights, and today the court agreed," he added.
The court ordered the state to issue the Choose Life license plate, saying that the state statute used to reject the plate gives too much discretion to Department of Revenue committee officials who approve and reject applications.
John Fougere, a representative of pro-abortion Missouri Attorney General Jay Nixon, said Nixon’s office hasn’t decided yet if it will appeal the decision.
The "Choose Life" license plate originated in Florida and has been approved in sixteen other states. More than 70,000 motorists have now raised over $6 million dollars to fund pregnancy resource centers and maternity homes through their sales.