Missouri Choose Life License Plate Gets Federal Appeals Court Hearing

State   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Oct 17, 2008   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

Missouri Choose Life License Plate Gets Federal Appeals Court Hearing

by Steven Ertelt
LifeNews.com Editor
October 17
, 2008

Jefferson City, MO (LifeNews.com) — A federal appeals court held a hearing on Thursday on the constitutionality of Choose Life license plates in Missouri. The plates allow state motorists to have a pro-life message on their car that supports adoption and part of the proceeds from the specialty plate help pregnant women in crisis.

Alliance Defense Fund senior legal counsel Joel Oster appeared before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit to argue for the plates.

“Pro-life organizations shouldn’t be discriminated against for their beliefs,” said Oster. “Rejecting Choose Life’s participation in the specialty license plate program just because government officials in high places object to the message is simply unconstitutional.”

In June 2006, ADF attorneys filed suit against Missouri Department of Revenue officials after two Missouri senators–both members of a committee responsible for reviewing the specialty plate applications–objected to the viewpoint of the message on a license plate proposed by Choose Life of Missouri.

Earlier this year, a federal court ruled in favor of Choose Life, determining that the state’s statute outlining the approval process for specialty plates was unconstitutional. The state appealed the ruling to the 8th Circuit, which refused to stay the district court’s decision while the case is on appeal.

During the hearing, attorneys for the state argued that the speech on the plates is "government speech" and can be regulated.

"The question is: Who is the speaker and what is the message?" Assistant Attorney General Joel Anderson said, according to an AP report. "It’s government speech."

The lawsuit contends the state engaged in First Amendment violations, and abridged due process and equal protection rights by rejecting the Choose Life plate application while approving other specialty plates.

"’Choose Life’ is a positive message that needs to be heard," Oster said. "The plate should not be denied because two pro-choice senators disagreed with that viewpoint."

Choose Life of Missouri has been working on securing this life-affirming license plate since 2005.

Using a 2004 law that allows lawmakers to block nonprofit groups seeking specialty license plates, two Missouri state senators halted the plates in February 2006.

Looking back on the battle, the law allowed 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.

Senior U.S. District Judge Scott Wright eventually 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.

Ultimately, the Choose Life plates across the nation have raised over $8.7 million and over 400,000 plates have been sold or renewed in the 17 state that currently have the plate available.

Related web sites:
Choose Life Missouri – https://www.chooselifemissouri.org
National Choose Life plate effort – https://www.choose-life.org

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