U.S. Supreme Court Hears Oral Arguments for Specialty License Plates

Pro-life free speech at stake in pending decision

(Tuesday, March 24, 2015 – Washington, D.C.) – The U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments yesterday in a specialty license plate case that will have implications for Choose Life license plates around the country.

Thomas More Society had filed an amicus brief on behalf of Choose Life Wisconsin, Illinois Choose Life, and Choose Life America, urging the Court to rule that specialty license plates, including “Choose Life” license plates, constitute private speech in a designated public forum, and to thus resolve the disputes among lower courts over how to treat specialty license plates, which have been frequently censored by overly-aggressive state governments.

Some of the questions raised by the Justices during oral argument give hope for the future of specialty license plates, such as the point made by Justice Kennedy when he asked: “Why hasn’t this become a traditional public forum? . . . People don’t go to parks anymore. They drive.” If the Court were to find the license plates a traditional public forum, then the full force of First Amendment speech protections would be afforded to the messages broadcasted on specialty license plates.

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 inaction by the legislature or court action to suppress the plates.

“The State of Texas claims that speech on license plates is government speech,” said Steve Crampton, Thomas More Society special counsel. “However, once the government opens the forum to allow specialty plates designed by a wide variety of private parties, it has opened a public forum for private speech. When the government censors private speech in a public forum on the grounds of ‘offensiveness,’ it offends the First Amendment.”

Thomas More Society hopes that the U.S. Supreme Court will affirm private citizens’ right to free speech in the specialty license plate forum, thereby opening the door for Choose Life license plates to be available throughout the country.

In the words of Justice Breyer: “This isn’t government speech in common English.  It is the speech of the person who wants to put the message on the plate.”

Read Thomas More Society’s amicus brief here.

Read transcript of oral argument here: Walker v. Texas Div., Sons of Confederate Veterans, Inc.