WASHINGTON (BP)–The U.S. Supreme Court let stand Jan. 24 a lower court ruling against South Carolina’s pro-life license plate, thereby permitting conflicting opinions at the appellate level.
The high court declined to review a decision last year by the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals that a state-approved license plate with the words “Choose Life” on it violates the First Amendment when an abortion rights message is not permitted in the same forum. In a 2002 ruling, however, the Fifth Circuit Court found abortion rights advocates did not have standing to challenge Louisiana’s “Choose Life” plate.
As a result of the Supreme Court’s action, different rulings on the pro-life license plates apply in different circuits. The Fourth Circuit consists of the states of Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina. The Fifth Circuit is made up of Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas.
Planned Parenthood, the country’s leading provider of abortions, challenged South Carolina’s pro-life plate after a 2001 law made it available and provided some of the funds from purchase of the specialty plate for crisis pregnancy centers.
In its decision, a three-judge panel of the Fourth Circuit said South Carolina “impermissibly favored the pro-life viewpoint” by permitting only a “Choose Life” plate.
“[B]ecause the state has established a license plate forum for the abortion debate, it cannot limit the viewpoints expressed in that forum,” the panel said. “The Supreme Court has never suggested that the government speech rationale allows a state to dominate a forum in this way, even one of its own creation.”