Federal Appeals Court Upholds North Carolina Choose Life License Plates

State   |   Micaiah Bilger   |   Mar 11, 2016   |   6:56PM   |   Charlotte, NC

After a long battle in the courts, pro-lifers in North Carolina will finally be allowed to display their support for unborn babies on their license plates.

On Thursday, the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the “Choose Life” license plates that state lawmakers approved in 2011 are constitutional, according to WRAL.

The battle over the North Carolina pro-life plates went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court last year, LifeNews reported. In June 2015, the high court ordered the 4th Circuit Court, which previously struck down the law, to reconsider the case in light of the Supreme Court’s June 18 decision in another license plate case, Walker v. Texas Division, Sons of Confederate Veterans.

The Thursday ruling means pro-lifers will be able to purchase the special pro-life license plates in North Carolina. Some of that money will be given to support pregnant and parenting moms and their babies through pro-life pregnancy centers, according to the report. None of the money will be allowed to support groups that promote or perform abortions, the report states.

Unsurprisingly, the ACLU, which challenged the 2011 law, was not pleased with the ruling Thursday. Sarah Preston, acting executive director of the ACLU of North Carolina, told the news station that she was disappointed.

“Regardless of the court’s ruling, the General Assembly should finally do the right thing and allow citizens on both sides of this controversial issue to purchase specialty license plates supporting their views,” Preston said.

Preston was referring to abortion advocates’ attempts to amend the 2011 law to create pro-abortion license plates that would have read “Trust Women. Respect Choice” or “Respect Choice,” according to the local news report.

In 2011, the North Carolina General Assembly approved the optional “Choose Life” specialty license plate. Citizens who choose the plate pay an additional $25 fee, $15 of which goes to the Carolina Pregnancy Care Fellowship, a private organization that assists pregnant women in North Carolina. The state offers other specialty plates that also fund causes benefiting the state and that are consistent with its public policies.

Hundreds of North Carolinians requested the “Choose Life” specialty plates, but before North Carolina could begin issuing them, the ACLU challenged the law. The ACLU argued that the “Choose Life” plate must be censored because the state did not also issue a license plate that encourages abortion, even though encouraging abortions is contrary to the state’s interests and public policy.

Previously, U.S. District Court Judge James C. Fox ruled against the law, saying, “The State’s offering of a Choose Life license plate in the absence of a pro-choice plate constitutes viewpoint discrimination in violation of the First Amendment.”

In February 2014, a divided panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit upheld his decision. However, the court’s new ruling on Thursday reversed the previous decision and gave approval of the license plates.

“The First Amendment does not allow groups like the ACLU to suppress a state’s positive message just because the state does not also simultaneously approve a conflicting negative message,” said Alliance Defending Freedom Senior Counsel Steven H. Aden, previously. “Citizens of North Carolina have the freedom to promote messages on their vehicles that their legislature has expressly adopted through license plate legislation.”

Barbara Holt, President of North Carolina Right to Life, also commented previously on the case: “Pro-life people worked hard to get this ‘Choose Life’ license plate. They will be the ones who will purchase them. The extra money they voluntarily pay for the plate will go toward encouraging adoption.”

The “Choose Life” license plates are available in 30 states, according to Choose Life America Inc., which advocates for the plates. According to the group, sales from the pro-life license plates have raised almost $23 million nationally to help pregnant and parenting moms and their babies.