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Originally published: 2013-01-07 10:50:44
Last modified: 2013-01-07 12:27:03

State appeals 'Choose Life' license plate case to Fourth Circuit

by Anna Oakes

The state of North Carolina on Jan. 4 filed notice that it will appeal a U.S. District Court ruling that its plan to offer a "Choose Life" license plate without a pro-choice alternative is unconstitutional.

The Republican-led General Assembly authorized the issuance of the "Choose Life" license plate in 2011 along with a number of other specialty plates. Three-fifths of proceeds from "Choose Life" plate fees were designated for the Carolina Pregnancy Care Fellowship for distribution to nongovernmental, nonprofit agencies that provide pregnancy services limited to counseling and/or meeting the needs of pregnant women.

"Funds received pursuant to this section shall not be distributed to any agency, organization, business or other entity that provides, promotes, counsels or refers for abortion and shall not be distributed to any entity that charges women for services received," the legislation stated.

Last month, U.S. District Court Judge James C. Fox concluded that the state's decision to offer a "Choose Life" license plate in the absence of a pro-choice plate "constitutes viewpoint discrimination in violation of the First Amendment."

The office of N.C. Atty. Gen. Roy Cooper, a Democrat, filed notice of appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, based in Richmond, Va., on Friday.

"Choose Life" license plates are promoted by an organization called Choose Life America Inc. According to the organization's website, "Choose Life" license plates are available in more than two dozen states across the U.S., including every state in the South except North Carolina and West Virginia.

A U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals ruling in this case could have ramifications for the Fourth Circuit states of North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, West Virginia and Maryland.

The American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina Legal Foundation said it filed the U.S. District Court lawsuit in September 2011 "on behalf of North Carolinians seeking a specialty license plate that supports a woman's right to reproductive freedom."