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7th Circuit: Ill. not required to issue 'Choose Life' plates

By The Associated Press
11.10.08

Editor’s note: On Oct. 5, 2009, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear the case.

CHICAGO — A federal appeals court ruled late last week that the Illinois secretary of state’s office does not have to issue specialty license plates bearing the slogan “Choose Life” favored by anti-abortion forces.

State officials are within their rights in trying to keep either viewpoint on the emotional issue of abortion off of Illinois license plates, the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Nov. 7 in Choose Life Illinois v. White.

“It is undisputed that Illinois has excluded the entire subject of abortion from its specialty plate program,” a three-judge panel of the court said.

“It has authorized neither a pro-life plate nor a pro-choice plate,” the panel said. “It has done so on the reasonable rationale that messages on specialty license plates give the appearance of having the government’s endorsement, and Illinois does not wish to be perceived as endorsing any position on abortion.”

It said the state’s position on the issue represented a restriction on content, not an unconstitutional restriction on free-speech viewpoint, since it bars both viewpoints on one of the biggest hot-button issues in the legal world.

The Nov. 7 ruling — based on an appeal by Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White — reversed a January 2007 ruling by U.S. District Judge David H. Coar.

Coar had ordered the secretary of state’s office to start producing the plates as long as proponents, led by Choose Life Illinois Inc., could show that enough people were interested and the design met the state’s specifications for specialty plates. But Coar stayed his order pending appeal by White.

Among other things, Coar said the slogan “Choose Life” could indicate that proponents favored adoption and rejected the notion that it was a thinly disguised anti-abortion slogan. But the 7th Circuit panel addressed the abortion issue.

Attorneys for Choose Life Illinois and the secretary of state’s office did not return phone calls seeking comment in time for this story.

Proponents of “Choose Life” plates had brought their crusade to federal court after years of trying unsuccessfully to get state legislators to authorize them.

The secretary of state’s office issues 60 different specialty plates dedicated to interests ranging from pet lovers to environmentalists. But White’s office said all the plates had been authorized by the General Assembly and signed by the governor.

Coar had ruled that White didn’t need legislative approval to issue the plate. But since then, the Illinois General Assembly passed legislation barring issuance of specialty plates without its approval and the governor’s signature. The appeals panel said that settled the question of whether legislative approval was required.


Previous
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

Related

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

Plaintiffs say they'll continue to pursue part of case regarding access to funds generated by sale of specialty tags. 01.12.08

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

8th Circuit: Mo. must issue 'Choose Life' car tags
Unanimous three-judge panel agrees with federal judge who ruled that state's process for approving or disallowing specialty license plates was unconstitutional. 03.27.09

Va. governor signs bill creating 'Choose Life' plate
State joins 23 others that offer anti-abortion plate — some after lengthy court battles. 04.02.09

High court won't block release of Conn. priest-abuse records
Justices also turn away appeals in several other First Amendment-related cases. 10.05.09

State-by-state statutes governing license plates
Compilation of state statutes, regulations on specialty plates, personalized plates. 01.20.06

License plates

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