Choose Life License Plates at Stake at U.S. Supreme Court

Thomas More Society files amicus brief urging the High Court to rule in favor of free speech

Choose Life IL

(Wednesday, February18, 2015 – Washington, D.C.) – Thomas More Society has filed an amicus brief urging the United States Supreme Court to rule that specialty license plates, including “Choose Life” license plates, constitute private speech in a designated public forum, which is protected by the First Amendment as free speech. The brief is brought on behalf of Choose Life America, Choose Life Wisconsin, and Illinois Choose Life. Because there have been many disputes among lower courts over how to treat specialty license plates, the Society’s brief encourages the U.S. Supreme Court to rule in the case brought by the Sons of Confederate Veterans in favor of free speech for all specialty plates, without any viewpoint bias.

“Millions of dollars for pregnancy centers as well as a powerful means of pro-life advocacy are at stake here,” said Tom Brejcha, Thomas More Society president and chief counsel. “If the U.S. Supreme Court affirms free speech for Choose Life license plates throughout the country, the revenue generated will support countless pregnancy resource centers. If Choose Life plates are denied, that source of income will not be available for resource centers to help mothers in need.”

Choose Life license plates are currently available in 29 states and the District of Columbia, and the revenue they generate benefits adoption-related organizations, including pregnancy care centers that serve mothers in need. As of October 2014, Choose Life specialty plates had raised $21 million dollars for pro-life organizations. Wisconsin and Illinois, however, are among the states where Choose Life plates are not available, either due to politically-motivated inaction by legislatures or court action to suppress the plates.

Lower courts have wrestled with the question whether or not specialty license plates are private speech protected by the First Amendment, or government speech subject to censorship, and there have been many conflicting rulings on the matter. The Society’s amicus brief, authored by attorneys Steve Crampton and Jocelyn Floyd, argues that specialty license plates constitute private speech in a limited public forum, and thus should be protected by the First Amendment.

The brief states: “Inviting private actors to custom-design a specialty plate for display on privately owned vehicles…is predominately if not entirely private speech, not government speech. Consequently, First Amendment protections should attach.”

In the case of Choose Life plates, a non-profit organization creates the design and message, and then private individuals can pay to display that particular message on their vehicle to thousands of passing motorists.

“A clarification from the U.S. Supreme Court that specialty license plates constitute a designated public forum will resolve the inconsistencies in lower courts’ rulings,” concluded Steve Crampton, Thomas More Society special counsel. “Currently, some states allow Choose life specialty plates while other states censor them. All drivers who wish to purchase Choose Life specialty plates – to express their personal views about an important societal issue – should be allowed to do so. The forum of specialty plates should include all speech.”

Thomas More Society’s amicus brief can be found here.

Previous stories about Choose Life license plates can be found here and here.