Wednesday, July 16, 2014
Republican leaders of the N.C. General Assembly are determined to keep wasting state money in an attempt to get pro-life specialty license plates approved even though two courts have already declared them unconstitutional. According to news reports this week, lawyers for House Speaker Thom Tillis and Senate leader Phil Berger Sr. petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court Monday to hear the case and decide whether a 2011 law creating a state “Choose Life” license plate is constitutional.
A three-judge panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Virginia, ruled unanimously in February that the license plate violated the First Amendment because the state refused to offer similar plates for those supporting a woman’s right to have an abortion. They affirmed a lower court ruling.
For people who claim to be conservative, especially on money matters, Tillis and Berger - and other Republicans who have pushed this wrongheaded move - have thrown away tax dollars in pursuit of this blatant violation of the First Amendment.
The interesting thing about the petition to the high court is that the state attorney general's office suggested a less expensive way for the lawmakers to achieve their goal - one that's always been available. Draft new legislation with both anti-abortion and pro-choice license plate options.
In an April 30 email to staffers for Tillis and Berger, Chief Deputy Attorney General Grayson Kelley said the appeals court ruling was consistent with case law and recent decisions handed down by other judges. The 4th Circuit struck down a similar South Carolina law in 2004 and the Supreme Court subsequently declined to hear the case.
Kelley said state taxpayers would likely be required to pay any further legal fees incurred by those challenging the law - meaning the state would be on the hook not only for state legal fees but for the ACLU's fees. The ACLU is challenging the law. Rather than continue the fight in court, he urged the legislative leaders to draft new legislation in the current session.
“I encourage you to consider that option, if possible, as an efficient way to resolve the issues raised in this litigation,” Kelley wrote.
But Tillis and Berger are moving ahead with the help of the Alliance Defending Freedom, a conservative legal foundation based in Scottsdale, Arizona, which filed the appeal on behalf of Tillis and Berger. The ADF said the ACLU is trying to censor government expression. The attorney general's office, run by Democrat Roy Cooper who has already said he will run for governor, did not file an appeal.
In defense of Tillis and Berger's petition, ADF Senior Counsel Casey Mattox said: “State governments have a right to advance messages consistent with their public policies.”
But state governments should not have the right to stifle opposing messages. That's what lawmakers did when they rejected "Trust Women, Respect Choices" and approved "Choose Life."
Appeals court judge James Wynn got it right: "Chief amongst the evils the First Amendment prohibits are government 'restrictions distinguishing among different speakers, allowing speech by some but not others,'" he wrote. "In this case, North Carolina seeks to do just that: privilege speech on one side of the hotly debated issue — reproductive choice — while silencing opposing voices."
Tillis and Berger are wrong to keep pursuing this. Taxpayer dollars can be better utilized.
- Associate Editor Fannie Flono
Posted by Fannie Flono at 3:51 PM