Missouri Choose Life License Plate Gets Favorable Appeals Court Ruling
by Steven Ertelt
March 26, 2009
Jefferson City, MO (LifeNews.com) — A federal appeals court has issued a decision agreeing with a lower district court ruling upholding the right of Missouri residents to purchase Choose Life license plates for their vehicles. The proceeds from the sales of the plates will fund pregnancy centers that help women avoid abortions.
Last year, a federal court ruled in favor of the Choose Life plates and determined that the states statute outlining the approval process for specialty plates was unconstitutional. The state appealed the ruling to the 8th Circuit.
The appeals court affirmed the ruling and ordered the Missouri Department of Revenue to issue the plates.
It also agreed with the lower court that the plates represent a private view of the citizens purchasing them and are not state-sponsored speech.
The Department of Revenue told the Kansas City Star newspaper it has not decided if it will appeal the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court.
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 Lifes 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 senatorsboth members of a committee responsible for reviewing the specialty plate applicationsobjected to the viewpoint of the message on a license plate proposed by Choose Life of Missouri.
During the hearing at the appeals court, 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. 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 nearly $10 million and nearly 450,000 plates have been sold or renewed in the 17 state that currently have the plate available.
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