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High court won't examine 'Choose Life' plates

By The Associated Press

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court declined to consider today whether South Carolina's anti-abortion license plates are unconstitutional, a free-speech question that could have resulted in the elimination of similar programs in a dozen states.

Without comment in Rose v. Planned Parenthood of South Carolina, justices turned away a challenge to a lower court ruling that said the plates, which bear the slogan "Choose Life," violate the First Amendment because abortion-rights supporters weren't given a similar forum to express their beliefs.

Under the program begun in 2001, South Carolina drivers may pay a $70 fee to purchase the anti-abortion plates, with the revenue going toward local crisis pregnancy programs. Specialty plates with abortion-rights slogans are not offered.

Planned Parenthood of South Carolina, which filed the lawsuit, had argued the program amounts to "viewpoint discrimination" by state officials since they allow expression of only one side of the abortion debate.

South Carolina countered that the plates are "government speech" that entitles them to allow a particular viewpoint without an obligation to include dissenting views. Otherwise, the state would have to allow countering views to license plates touching on any public policy matter, such as "God Bless America."

The plate is "the most recent and apparently most visible expression in a long line of statements asserting the state's clear and oft-repeated preference for childbirth over abortion," state officials argued in their filing.

The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, based in Richmond, Va., disagreed and ruled the plates were unconstitutional. It rejected South Carolina's claim that Planned Parenthood lacked "standing," or an actual injury, since it never applied for a specialty plate under a separate law allowing nonprofit groups to seek plates bearing their insignia for members.

The ruling was at odds with one by the New Orleans-based 5th Circuit. That court ruled in December 2002 that Louisiana abortion rights advocates had no standing to sue that state over its anti-abortion plate.

Planned Parenthood may "base their claim of injury on the state's unequal treatment of two viewpoints in the abortion debate, specifically, its promotion of only the pro-life view," the 4th Circuit stated.

According to South Carolina's court filing, 11 other states offer driver "Choose Life" plates and lawmakers in 11 additional states are considering providing them.

States offering the plates are: Alabama, Arkansas, Connecticut, Florida, Hawaii, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, Montana, Oklahoma and Tennessee.

The states that have "undertaken legislative action to some degree" on anti-abortion plates are: California, Delaware, Georgia, Illinois, Kentucky, Michigan, New Hampshire, Ohio, Rhode Island, Texas and Virginia.

The law allowing the "Choose Life" plate was signed by South Carolina Gov. Jim Hodges in 2001 and included in a bill that allowed NASCAR and other specialty plates. In 2003, U.S. District Judge Patrick Michael Duffy issued a preliminary injunction blocking South Carolina from issuing the plates until the case was heard.

4th Circuit strikes down S.C. 'Choose Life' plates
Panel says state violated First Amendment by giving anti-abortion advocates a forum to express their beliefs without giving abortion-rights supporters similar medium. 03.23.04


Federal appeals court won't reinstate challenge to 'Choose Life' plates

Attorney for Louisiana abortion-rights supporters says he's 'strongly considering' appeal to Supreme Court. 08.13.02

5th Circuit sidesteps First Amendment in 'Choose Life' ruling
Three-judge panel reverses federal judge's ban on Louisiana's specialty license plates, says case should be dismissed because it belongs in state, not federal, court. 04.14.05

Judge upholds Arizona's rejection of 'Choose Life' plate
Pro-life group failed to show violation of free speech by state commission, district judge rules. 09.28.05

Court dismisses challenge to Ohio 'Choose Life' plates
Federal judge doesn't rule on merits of case but instead finds court lacks jurisdiction because money raised by sale of tags is tax revenue for state. 10.07.05

5th Circuit deadlocks on La. 'Choose Life' plates
Decision clears way for state to begin selling plates, but foes say they'll appeal to Supreme Court. 12.23.05

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

Woman resists DMV's call to return anti-Bush license plate
South Dakota official says that although only one person complained about 'MPEACHW' message, that's all it takes to recall a set of vanity plates. 05.07.07

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

S.C. lawmakers have religion on minds, in bills
Bills moving through Legislature would create 'I Believe' license tag, clarify use of prayer before public meetings, allow Ten Commandments in legal foundation displays. 05.15.08

S.C. drivers can profess faith with new license tags
Governor allows bill to become law without his signature but offers sermon of sorts to state Senate leaders. 06.06.08

State's 'I Believe' license plates challenged
Ministers, Americans United contend South Carolina is endorsing Christianity through specialty tags. 06.22.08

'04 docket includes free-speech cases
By Tony Mauro Cattle ranchers, Oklahoma libertarians, ex-Johnnie Cochran client to get day in Court. 09.29.04

2004-05 Supreme Court case tracker

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