Thursday morning a federal district judge denied a motion by the Illinois Secretary of State to overturn his recent ruling that allowed "Choose Life" to be a slogan on Illinois specialty license plates. On January 22, Federal Judge David Coar had ruled in favor of Choose Life Illinois plaintiffs in their lawsuit against Jesse White, explaining that their message was protected by the First Amendment and entitled to be on the plates.
Judge Coar had stayed enforcement of the January ruling for 30 days, and when White's lawyers — from the office of Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan — sought to extend that stay beyond its scheduled expiration date of February 21. Judge Coar declined to do so, saying he might consider extending the stay if White pursued a further appeal to the US Court of Appeals from this trial court ruling in favor of the "Choose Life" plates.
Tom Brejcha, president and chief counsel at Chicago's Thomas More Society, a public interest law firm representing the non-profit group, Choose Life Illinois, Inc., hailed Judge Coar's latest ruling as another strong endorsement of his clients' First Amendment rights. "This isn't rocket science, but rather a plain and simple application of rudimentary First Amendment principles," Brejcha said.
"Once you open up state license plates as a public forum where citizens can set up their soap boxes and promote their private causes — ranging from peace plates, environmental plates, pet friendly plates to plates for Masons and Knights of Columbus — you can't constitutionally suppress the rights of over 25,000 Illinois citizens who signed petitions for Choose Life to promote the cause of adoption and raise funds to support young women who choose to bear their infants and give them the priceless gift of life in loving, adoptive families."
Jesse White's spokesmen recently faulted the Choose Life group for failing to follow the usual procedure of getting a bill passed in the General Assembly. Brejcha responded to this allegation stating, "Judge Coar ruled that Illinois law gives the Secretary of State himself full authority to approve or reject specialty plates. Secretary White can't lawfully pass the buck to the General Assembly, as if legislators should be casting votes as grand inquisitors or censors approving some causes, disapproving others."
Brejcha added: "Every American has the right to stand on his or her soap box and promote a cherished cause, unless it's obscene, or threatening, or fighting words, or an incitement to violence. If those who oppose adoption or advocate against choosing life want to petition for their own specialty plate, more power to them — this is still a free country!"
Jim Finnegan, retired business executive and president of Choose Life Illinois, said that he and his fellow board members, including Mrs. Virginia McCaskey of the Chicago Bears, "look forward to the day when Illinois drivers may help more children find loving homes by buying these plates, whose proceeds will be earmarked only for agencies supporting adoption."