by Steven Ertelt
January 29, 2008
Phoenix, AZ (LifeNews.com) — A federal appeals court determined on Monday that the Choose Life license plate available to motorists in Arizona is constitutional. A coalition of pro-life groups sponsored the plate and say a special state commission acted illegally by denying its application for a plate and limiting its free speech rights.
The coalition of pro-life groups, which includes Arizona Right to Life, the Center for Arizona Policy, and several crisis pregnancy centers, submitted the plate application in January 2002 and sued the state in September 2003 after the commission denied the plate.
In September 2005, U.S. District Judge Paul G. Rosenblatt upheld the commission’s decision and said the Arizona Life Coalition failed to show that its right to free speech was denied.
The pro-life groups appealed and the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the decision Monday on a unanimous decision. The panel of judges said the group would have its First Amendment rights abrogated, especially because other specialty license plates have been approved for sale in the state.
Judge Richard Tallman wrote for the appellate court and said the commission "clearly denied the application based on the nature of the message — indicating discrimination based on the pro-life perspective of the plate sponsors.
Jeffrey Schafer, an attorney representing pro-life advocates, says the courts decision shows "when the state opens the door, generally, for private organizations to speak, its bureaucrats may not slam the door in the face of pro-life speakers or others that it may seek to censor simply because of the viewpoint of the speaker."
In arguing for the state, James Morrow, an assistant state attorney general, previously said "The state must have the power to decline to express viewpoints that it does not wish to express."
"Many Arizonans may be offended if they believe that Arizona is sponsoring a pro-choice message, just as many Arizonans may be offended if they believe that Arizona is sponsoring a pro-life message," he said.
Proceeds from the sale of the Choose Life plates would benefit pregnancy centers that help women find abortion alternatives.
The ruling in Arizona Life Coalition vs. Stanton is available at www.ca9.uscourts.gov/ca9/newopinions.nsf
Related web sites:
Arizona Right to Life – https://www.azrtl.org