Arizona Choose Life License Plates Move Forward With Supreme Court Ruling
by Steven Ertelt
October 6, 2008
Phoenix, AZ (LifeNews.com) — The Supreme Court let stand a federal appeals court ruling saying Arizona pro-life advocates would have their First Amendment rights abrogated by state officials preventing motorists from purchasing Choose Life license plates.
The high court denied a writ of certiorari in the case of Arizona Life Coalition v. Stanton after the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously overturned the September 2005 decision of U.S. District Judge Paul G. Rosenblatt.
The appellate 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.
Rosenblatt upheld the ruling of the Arizona License Plate Commission, which denied the application for the speciality plate from a coalition of pro-life groups including Arizona Right to Life, the Center for Arizona Policy, and several crisis pregnancy centers.
They submitted the plate application in January 2002 and sued the state in September 2003 after the commission denied the plate.
Peter Gentala, attorney for the Arizona Life Coalition, told LifeNews.com after the Supreme Court’s decision, Life-affirming expression is constitutionally protected just like any other speech."
The Arizona Life Coalitions message has been censored for over six years. Now its time for the License Plate Commission to act quickly to approve the plates so they can go into production as the law requires," she said.
Judge Richard Tallman wrote for the appellate court in its January ruling 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 at that time, said 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.
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