United States Supreme Court Refuses to Decide Constitutionality of "Choose Life" License Plates

Jan 24, 2005

Washington D.C. - Today the United States Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal in Planned Parenthood of South Carolina v. Rose, a case in which the "Choose Life" specialty license plates available in South Carolina were held unconstitutional by the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals. Liberty Counsel filed an amicus brief in the Court of Appeals arguing that the license plates were constitutional.

Liberty Counsel earlier represented several "Choose Life" license plate owners and crisis pregnancy centers in the Eleventh Circuit case of Women's Emergency Network v. Bush. That case upheld the constitutionality of Florida's "Choose Life" license plate. Liberty Counsel is a nonprofit litigation, education, and policy organization dedicated to advancing religious freedom, the sanctity of human life and the traditional family.

Planned Parenthood filed the lawsuit to invalidate South Carolina's Choose Life license plate, claiming the message of the plate was offensive. In December 2002, the district court ruled in favor of Planned Parenthood. South Carolina appealed and Liberty Counsel filed a brief in support of the Choose Life license plate on appeal. In March 2004, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the plates violated the First Amendment because they gave a forum for pro-life advocates to present their views, but not abortion supporters.

A "Choose Life" license plate represents a valid expression of the state's longstanding preference for childbirth over abortion and is a valid exercise of government speech. Even ordinarily impermissible viewpoint based distinctions made by the government are permitted where the government itself is the speaker. Anyone who purchases a Choose Life license plate must pay an additional fee to obtain the plate. Those funds are then used to support local crisis pregnancy centers, with the express condition that no funds may go to an entity that provides, promotes, or refers for abortion. Groups, such as Planned Parenthood, may express an opposing viewpoint by applying for their own plate under the specialty license plate system but may not simply silence the opposition.

Mat Staver, President and General Counsel of Liberty Counsel, stated, "Planned Parenthood wants to silence any message preferring adoption over abortion. If Planned Parenthood pursued the best interests of women and children, it would welcome a pro-adoption message. Their actions betray their rhetoric. The Supreme Court's refusal to hear this case sends the wrong message to the states as adoption, not abortion, is in the best interest of women, children, and the state of South Carolina."