North Carolina is one of 29 states that offer a “Choose Life” license plate pushed by Choose Life America. At least some of these states offer a pro-choice alternative. In a highly controversial issue such as abortion, that is the only way to go if one side is going to publicize its position with government resources.
North Carolina is one of the states that doesn’t offer an alternative. That didn’t happen because no one thought to present the pro-choice side. An alternative place was proposed: “Trust Women. Respect Choice.” It was voted down.
That brought the ACLU into the fray, which sued. In December, a federal court ruled that it’s not constitutional for a governmental body to support one side of a controversial issue and not the other.
“The State’s offering a Choose Life license plate in the absence of a pro-choice alternative constitutes viewpoint discrimination in violation of the First Amendment,” wrote U.S. District Court Judge James Fox.
That had to be one of the easier rulings by Fox in his career. That a majority of the North Carolina legislature felt that it was both the state’s responsibility and right to side with the pro-life movement is surprising. Most of them must have figured this was unconstitutional but voted out of pure political posturing.
The December court ruling seemed to settle the issue, but North Carolina decided not to back down. The state filed an appeal but without comment. Exactly what officials in North Carolina are thinking gets to remain a mystery for a few more days at least.
Filing an appeal is not the same as legislators voting to appease pro-life groups in their districts. An appeal involves lawyers who should grasp what is constitutional or not, especially in an issue as basic as this. Judge Fox has even provided an out for the state to make these plates by stating that it also needs to produce an alternative opinion on license plates. All they have to do is allow a pro-life design.
Beyond this rather foolish venture into an appeals court where North Carolina will undoubtedly lose, rests a more basic question. Why are states or any government body taking positions on controversial issues? A license plate isn’t the place to argue matters like this anyway. There isn’t the space to put forth both points of view. There are other, far more appropriate venues for both sides to stake their positions. States should butt out of controversial issues with their license plates and use them for what they were intended: to identify motor vehicles.