New Jersey Choose Life License Plates Revived by Federal Appeals Court After Lawsuit

State   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Apr 12, 2010   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

New Jersey Choose Life License Plates Revived by Federal Appeals Court After Lawsuit

by Steven Ertelt
LifeNews.com Editor
April 12
, 2010

Trenton, NJ (LifeNews.com) — A federal appeals court has revived the effort of a New Jersey pro-life group hoping to make it so motorists in the Garden State can purchase Choose Life license plates. While a state judge agreed with local officials in their bid to dismiss a lawsuit challenging the rejection of the plates, an appeals court said that was "viewpoint discrimination."

After having their proposal for a pro-adoption specialty plate rejected because of the slogan "Choose Life," the Children First Foundation (CFF) submitted a new plate design that was rejected too.

In response, the group filed a lawsuit and a federal judge, in July 2006, refused to dismiss the civil rights lawsuit brought against New Jersey officials.

A new judge assigned to the case dismissed it in June 2008, resulting in the current appeal to the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, and New Jersey authorities are defending their actions.

On Friday, that appeals court saw a three-judge panel revive the lawsuit.

"The court should have focused on whether the prohibition of certain advocacy messages and the permission of others based solely on the viewpoints expressed constituted such a violation," Judge Theodore McKee wrote for the panel, according to an AP report.

The case will now be sent back to U.S. District Judge Joel A. Pisano to act on the appeals court decision and move ahead with the lawsuit.

Jeff Shafter, senior legal director of the Alliance Defense Fund, a pro-life legal group that helped the Children First Foundation, responded to the news.

"The government should not be singling out a pro-adoption group for censorship. Censoring the ‘Choose Life’ logo on New Jersey license plates is a textbook case of viewpoint discrimination, which blatantly defies the First Amendment," he said. “We are pleased that the appellate court has reinstated this lawsuit and look forward to the full vindication of the foundation’s free speech rights.”

The judges — Theodore A. McKee and D. Brooks Smith of the 3rd Circuit and a visiting judge, Richard Stearns of the District of Massachusetts — considered the New Jersey license plate case.

The plate was initially declared to be too “controversial” and “political” in May 2004 and officials later attempted to amend their censorship justification, saying the plate was rejected because it contained “advocacy.” But as the lawsuit points out, the New Jersey special plate program was designed for advocacy, and the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission has approved specialty plates for other organizations that present advocacy messages.

CFF says the proceeds from the plates would go to crisis pregnancy centers, maternity homes and nonprofit adoption agencies.

So far, at least 18 states have Choose Life license plates on the road. New Jersey has dozens of "organization plates," including ones for veterans and civic organizations.

specialty plates of other organizations had been approved.

ADF-allied attorney Demetrios Stratis is serving as local counsel in the lawsuit, which was filed with the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey.

Related web sites:
Alliance Defense Fund – https://www.telladf.org
Children First Foundation – https://www.Fund-Adoption.org
Choose Life Inc, – https://www.choose-life.org

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