Court of Appeals Upholds Ruling Against Illinois’ “Choose Life” License Plates

Yesterday the Seventh Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals in Chicago refused to re-hear a claim involving the sale of pro-adoption specialty license plates in Illinois. 

A non-profit group, Choose Life Illinois, Inc., along with a group of private citizens, brought the claim after the state refused to allow the license plates to be sold to more than 25,000 Illinois residents who had signed petitions for them. Proceeds from the sale of plates, featuring the message, “Choose Life,” and the faces of two smiling children, were to fund Illinois adoption agencies.

“We are very disappointed that the Court of Appeals has stamped its approval on Illinois’ clearly discriminatory refusal to honor the request of over 25,000 Illinois citizens that these ‘Choose Life’ specialty plates be issued and sold.  Our state officials’ stubborn refusal to approve these plates has deprived Illinois adoption agencies of precious funds that could have been used to give kids the priceless gift of lifetimes within loving families,” said Tom Brejcha, president and chief counsel of Thomas More Society, which represents the plaintiffs. “We are committed to fighting this battle to the finish and fully intend to take the next step, filing of a petition for review by the U.S. Supreme Court.” 

The petition for rehearing sought reconsideration by the judges who handed down the November ruling and also by all other judges in active service on the court.

Brejcha predicts that the highest court will take up the case, as the appellate ruling sharply conflicts with Supreme Court precedent and also clashes with rulings of other federal appellate courts.

A recent decision of the Ninth Circuit ruled that Arizona’s similar suppression of a “Choose Life” specialty plate constituted “viewpoint discrimination” in violation of the First Amendment. Because Illinois approved more than 60 other specialty plates promoting a raft of other causes (e.g., environment, anti-war, organ donation, etc.), the plaintiffs believe the state’s refusal to issue “Choose Life” plates also constitutes “viewpoint discrimination” in violation of their First Amendment rights. 

The Illinois plaintiffs originally had prevailed in their lawsuit, as the federal trial court had ordered Secretary of State Jesse White to begin issuing the “Choose Life” plates, after finding his rejection of the plates to be illegal viewpoint discrimination.  On appeal, the Illinois Attorney General’s office switched tactics and claimed – so far, successfully – that Illinois had decided to ban any mention of reproductive rights issues on specialty plates because the subject matter is “too controversial.”  Thomas More Society attorneys argue, however, that once state authorities turn license plates into a “designated public forum” where so many other “controversial” topics are addressed, they must not be permitted to single out this topic for censorship. 

Petitions for review must be filed in the U.S. Supreme Court within 90 days of the lower court ruling that the Justices are being asked to overturn.  The Illinois “Choose Life” petition will be filed in late March, 2009.

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  • Claire

    This is ridiculous. Any other imaginable “vanity plate” would be allowed, so why not this one?

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