The 4th Circuit Court of Appeals has upheld a lower court ruling that said the state of North Carolina can’t approve the offering of a “Choose Life” license plate and then refuse to approve a pro-choice license plate. That is viewpoint discrimination under the law.
[W]e agree with the district court “that sufficient private speech interests are implicated by the specialty license plates to preclude a finding of purely government speech.”….
North Carolina … laments that if it has created a forum, it “must allow all viewpoints to be heard via specialty plates.” …. This complaint seems at odds with North Carolina’s contention that its vast array of specialty plates “celebrat[es]” the “diversity of its citizen’s interests . . . .”… Apparently, North Carolina wishes to celebrate only some interests of some of its citizens— namely those with which it agrees. This, it may not do.
North Carolina then sounds the death knell for specialty plates, predicting a “flood” of “Kill The Sea Turtles” and “Children Last” plates that will force it to end its specialty plate program…. Melodrama aside, our ruling today “does not render [North] Carolina powerless to regulate its specialty license plate forum.” … But it must do so in a viewpoint-neutral fashion—which it already does, to some extent, by requiring three hundred applicants before issuing a new specialty plate. Surely such a requirement can filter out “frivolous license plate proposals” and prevent the roads from being inundated with “license plates advocating reckless pet breeding.”
The opinion of the three-judge panel was unanimous. You can read the full ruling here.
Like Dispatches on Facebook: