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High court won't hear challenge to Okla. 'Choose Life' plates

By The Associated Press
01.12.08

OKLAHOMA CITY — The U.S. Supreme Court this week declined to hear part of an Oklahoma case challenging the state's specialty "Choose Life" license plates, but attorneys for the plaintiffs vowed to continue their lawsuit.

Approved by the Oklahoma Legislature in 2002, the yellow plates picturing a smiley-faced boy and girl cost $37. For each license plate sold, $20 goes to a fund administered by the Department of Human Services for nonprofit organizations for counseling and other needs of pregnant women. However, organizations that provide information on abortions are denied access to the funds.

About 450 "Choose Life" license plates have been sold each of the last two years, according to the Oklahoma Tax Commission.

The lawsuit was filed in federal court in Tulsa in 2004 on behalf of several Oklahoma motorists and the Oklahoma Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, Inc. Attorneys with the New York-based Center for Reproductive Rights and the law firm Debevoise & Plimpton are representing the plaintiffs.

The abortion-rights proponents are arguing two points in their case. First, that it's unfair that lawmakers have allowed a "Choose Life" plate while those seeking a license plate with a message on abortion rights would be required to gather 500 prepaid applications.

Second, they contend that groups offering a full range of pregnancy options, including abortion, should be able to access funds generated from the sale of the license plates.

On Jan. 7, the Supreme Court declined in Hill v. Kemp to hear arguments on the first part of the case, allowing to stand an earlier ruling by the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. The appeals court ruled that the fees paid for the specialty plates are state taxes and that any challenge must be pursued in state court.

The second argument regarding access to the funds has been sent back to the U.S. District Court in Tulsa.

"We had hoped that the plaintiffs would be given an opportunity to pursue their freedom-of-speech claims in federal court," said Janet Crepps, senior staff attorney at the Center for Reproductive Rights. "Pro-choice Oklahoma drivers are being denied the opportunity to express their point of view, while anti-choice drivers are granted the right to spread propaganda that not only supports their political opinions, but is explicitly sanctioned by the state government."

The defendants in the case include officials with the Oklahoma Tax Commission, which issues specialty license plates, Department of Human Services Director Howard Hendrick and Oklahoma Gov. Brad Henry.

Charlie Price, a spokesman for Attorney General Drew Edmondson's office, said on Jan. 8 that “the state is pleased the court ruled in our favor, so we'll see what the next step is on their part."

Price also noted the state law has been changed so that any group can obtain a specialty license plate with 500 prepaid applicants.

"Now, pretty much any group can get a specialty tag as long as it's not offensive or obscene, so that renders, in our estimation, the whole issue moot," Price said.

Officials with the Center for Reproductive Rights said they planned to continue their challenge.

"Together with Debevoise, we will explore all available options to ensure that the important federal claims raised by these Oklahoma residents will be fully heard," the group said.


Previous
Abortion-rights advocates sue over Oklahoma's 'Choose Life' plates
Plaintiffs ask federal judge to declare specialty license plates, distribution of plate funds unconstitutional. 01.16.04

Related

Justices spurn 'Choose Life' tag cases

Supreme Court refuses to consider Louisiana, Tennessee laws allowing drivers to pay extra for anti-abortion license plates. 06.26.06

Ill. officials must offer 'Choose Life' license plates
Federal judge acknowledges concerns about motto but says he assumes request for specialty tags was prompted by sincere interest in promoting adoption. 01.23.07

Mo. ordered to issue 'Choose Life' license plates
State had rejected group's application for tags, but federal judge finds law governing specialty plates is 'unconstitutionally vague and overbroad.' 01.24.08

9th Circuit: Ariz. wrong to deny 'Choose Life' plates
Unanimous three-judge panel finds state's decision not to issue specialty tag violates group's free-speech rights. 01.29.08

Fla. lawmakers consider Christian license plate
If 'I Believe' tag is approved, state would become first to have license plate featuring religious symbol that's not part of a college logo. 04.24.08

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