Alliance Defending Freedom filed the appeal on Friday on behalf of Thom Tillis, speaker of the North Carolina House of Representatives, and Phil Berger, president pro tempore of the North Carolina Senate.
“State governments have a right to advance messages consistent with their public policies,” said ADF Senior Counsel Casey Mattox in a recent statement.
“The Supreme Court has already affirmed that right. North Carolinians support protecting life and helping pregnant women in need; the First Amendment does not require the state to bow to demands that it censor the 'Choose Life' message.”
The North Carolina General Assembly authorized the specialty license plates featuring the phrase “Choose Life” in 2011. The plates would have been available for an additional $25 fee, $15 of which would support the Carolina Pregnancy Care Fellowship, which serves pregnant women in North Carolina.
The state offers more than 100 other special-interest license plates, ranging from the Knights of Columbus to more than a dozen NASCAR options. All specialty plates fund causes that benefit the state and are consistent with its public policies.
Before the state could begin issuing the plates for hundreds of interested citizens, the American Civil Liberties Union filed suit on First Amendment grounds. The ACLU argued that the “Choose Life” plates must be censored because North Carolina did not also issue a specialty place encouraging abortion.
The U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina ruled in favor of the ACLU, barring North Carolina from distributing the “Choose Life” plates. In February, the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the decision.
“The 4th Circuit's decision is at odds with other circuits that have upheld the rights of states to issue such plates,” said ADF Senior Counsel David Cortman.
“As the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed as recently as 2009, the government ‘has the right to speak for itself…and to select the views that it wants to express.’”
Specialty license plates expressing a pro-life message are available in 29 states.