In an important ruling today, U.S. District Court Judge James C. Fox ruled that North Carolina is violating the Constitution by issuing pro-life license plates without issuing a pro-choice license plate. We have discussed this contradiction below and I believe Fox is absolutely correct on the issue.
Fox found that “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.”
While the legislature approved the “Choose Life” plate in 2011, it repeatedly refused requests for pro-choice plates reading “Trust Women. Respect Choice,” or simply “Respect Choice.”
It is clear that these plates constitute a form of speech covered by the first amendment and the denial of the alternative plates shows the regulation of the content of such speech. While government speech is not subject to scrutiny under the Free Speech Clause, Pleasant Grove City, Utah v. Summum, 555 U.S. 460, 467-68 (2009), government regulation of private speech is subject to the Free Speech Clause and must be content neutral. The decision this week follows precedent laid down by the Fourth Circuit in Planned Parenthood v. Rose, 361 F.3d 786 (4th Cir. 2003). In that case, the court found that “both the State and the individual vehicle owner are speaking” in such license plate messages.
What most disturbs me is that North Carolina schools are struggling and citizens are in desperate need of social services in this economic crisis. Yet, the legislature is still triggering these expensive litigation fights by trying to find ways of expressing religious views while silencing alternative views. It shows not only a lack of understanding of our Constitution as citizens but a lack of responsibility as legislators.
Here is the opinion of Judge Fox