Illinois Choose Life License Plate Gets Second Legal Brief at Supreme Court

State   |   Steven Ertelt   |   May 19, 2009   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

Illinois Choose Life License Plate Gets Second Legal Brief at Supreme Court

by Steven Ertelt Editor
May 19
, 2009

Washington, DC ( — A second pro-life legal group has filed an amicus brief with the U.S. Supreme Court asking it to overturn a decision handed down against Choose Life license plates in Illinois. The appellate court ruled in November that Illinois officials who don’t want to issue Choose Life license plates for state motorists don’t have to do so.

The appeals court overturned a ruling issued by a federal judge who denied a request by Secretary of State Jesse White to stall on producing the plates.

The appellate court said state officials are within their rights to keep the abortion debate off Illinois license plates, even though other states have approved the plates.

Today, attorneys with the Alliance Defense Fund filed a friend-of-the-court brief.

“Pro-life and pro-adoption organizations shouldn’t be censored just because not everyone agrees with their viewpoint,” ADF senior legal counsel Steven Aden told

“The State of Illinois cannot treat the ‘Choose Life’ message differently than it treats other messages that advocate causes in a program that is open to all non-profit organizations. To do so is classic viewpoint discrimination, which is unquestionably unconstitutional," he said.

Other federal appeals courts have upheld the First Amendment rights of “Choose Life” plates in other states, Aden explained

Choose Life Illinois filed suit in federal district court, which ruled that the state violated Choose Life’s First Amendment rights by refusing to approve the plate. Illinois officials appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit, which reversed the lower court’s decision.

In the brief, ADF attorneys write, “The Supreme Court should not permit the precious right of free speech on public ways to become subject to the political whims of a governing body, without any limitation on its discretion to guard against inevitable viewpoint discrimination.”

In April, attorneys from the Thomas More Society filed a petition asking the U.S. Supreme Court to review and reverse the 7th Circuit Appeals Court’s decision.

Though the odds against the Supreme Court agreeing to hear any given appeal may seem overwhelming — only 1 of every 120 petitions has been granted in recent years — but TMS attorney Brejcha, and pro-life advocates are hopeful. He says the high court likes to get involved when lower courts are at odds with each other.

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.

Over 25,000 Illinois citizens had signed petitions for the “Choose Life” plate, with proceeds funding Illinois adoption agencies to help children find lifetime homes with loving families.

The state has issued 60 specialty plates ranging from pet lovers to environmental causes but efforts to get the plate approved by Illinois authorities were frustrated at every turn.

Bills introduced in the General Assembly were diverted to a special subcommittee where they died without any hearing.

Secretary of State Jesse White claimed he did not have power to approve the plate himself, and when the federal trial court ruled that he did have such authority the legislature approved a new law requiring legislative approval for every new plate.

Beginning with Florida in 2000, “Choose Life” specialty plates, such as the one proposed in Illinois, are now available in 19 states and have been approved in five others, despite opposition from pro-abortion organizations such as the National Organization for Women and Planned Parenthood.

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

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