Illinois Doesn’t Have to Issue Choose Life License Plates, Appeals Court Rules

State   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Nov 7, 2008   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

Illinois Doesn’t Have to Issue Choose Life License Plates, Appeals Court Rules

by Steven Ertelt Editor
November 7
, 2008

Springfield, IL ( — A federal appeals court has sided with Illinois officials who don’t want to issue Choose Life license plates for state motorists. The ruling overturns a decision last year by a federal judge who denied a request by Secretary of State Jesse White to overturn his prior ruling.

Choose Life Illinois filed the lawsuit in July 2004 against White alleging that the state’s current specialty license plate system allows for discrimination.

After receiving far more than the necessary number of signatures to submit an application for a Choose Life license plate — they needed 800 and obtained 25,000 — the state legislature did not approve the plate for two years.

In its Friday ruling, the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said state officials are within their rights to keep the abortion debate off Illinois license plates, even though other states have approved the plates.

The court ruled that Illinois officials have refused the Choose Life plate "on the reasonable rationale that messages on specialty license plates give the appearance of having the government’s endorsement, and Illinois does not wish to be perceived as endorsing any position on abortion."

The appeals court claimed Illinois is only restricting content and not the First Amendment free speech rights of the pro-life advocates behind the license plates.

The ruling revised a decision by Judge David Coar, who determined that the state must issue the specialty license plates as long as the sponsors of it meet normal requirements on the design and number of motorists wanting one.

The appeals court also said a new state law the Illinois General Assembly passed requiring specialty plate applicants to get a bill approved in the legislature and have the govern sign it now takes precedence. As such, petitioners can no longer use the Secretary of State to get the plates approved but must go through the legislature.

Previously, Tom Brejcha, president and chief counsel at the Thomas More Society, a pro-life law firm representing the group behind the plates, talked about the situation.

“This isn’t rocket science, but rather a plain and simple application of rudimentary First Amendment principles,” Brejcha previously told

“Once you open up state license plates as a public forum where citizens can set up their soap boxes and promote their private causes … you can’t constitutionally suppress the rights of over 25,000 Illinois citizens who signed petitions for Choose Life [plates]," he explained.

The state has issued 60 specialty plates ranging from pet lovers to environmental causes.

Choose Life plates in other states have been extremely popular and raised millions for adoption programs and pregnancy centers.

Related web sites:
Thomas More Society –
Choose Life Illinois –
Choose Life Inc –

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