[JURIST] The US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit [official website] on Friday ruled 2-1 in a three-judge panel decision [opinion, PDF] that Tennessee can offer a pro-life specialty license plate even though it does not offer a pro-choice license plate to state drivers. The lawsuit, filed [ACLU press release] by the American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee [official website] on behalf of Planned Parenthood of Middle and East Tennessee and three individuals, contends that the issuance of only pro-life plates signals government endorsement of that view, especially since a portion of the proceeds from the plates goes to an anti-abortion group, New Life Resources.
Writing for the panel, Circuit Judge John M. Rogers noted:
Although this exercise of government one-sidedness with respect to a very contentious political issue may be ill-advised, we are unable to conclude that the Tennessee statute contravenes the First Amendment. Government can express public policy views by enlisting private volunteers to disseminate its message, and there is no principle under which the First Amendment can be read to prohibit government from doing so because the views are particularly controversial or politically divisive.
Other courts around the country have ruled on the issuance of special license plates previously. In September 2005, a district judge ruled that Arizona could refuse to issue "choose life" plates [JURIST report]. In March 2004, the US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit struck down anti-abortion plates [JURIST report] in South Carolina, while the US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit in April 2004 upheld similar plates [JURIST report] against a challenge in Louisiana. AP has more.