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Court Rules New York May Not Issue Pro-Life License Plate

Children First Foundation

John Burger - published on 05/25/15 - updated on 06/08/17

Tag has been considered a distraction and potential source of road rage

Pro-adoption organizations should have the same speech rights as any other organization, said the attorney representing a group whose pro-life license plate has been denied for the past 13 or 14 years in New York.

The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Friday reversed a lower court ruling ordering the state to let an adoption advocacy group put the words "Choose Life" on its own plates.

By a 2-1 vote, the court said the commissioner of the state Department of Motor Vehicles had "broad discretion" to decide which plates to permit, and did not violate the First Amendment free speech rights of the Children First Foundation in rejecting the "Choose Life" plates, Reuters reported.

"The state doesn’t have the authority to target The Children First Foundation specialty plates for censorship based on its life-affirming viewpoint," said Alliance Defending Freedom Senior Legal Counsel Jeremy Tedesco. "The state has wrongly gotten away with speech discrimination against our client for more than 10 years.”

According to Judge Rosemary Pooler, who wrote the majority opinion in The Children First Foundation v. Fiala, the content of custom plates was "private speech" and the plates themselves a "nonpublic forum." Therefore the DMV’s uniform policy of excluding controversial, politically sensitive messages from plates, which the agency said stemmed from highway safety concerns, was "reasonable and viewpoint neutral, which is all that the First Amendment requires."

A 2011 federal district court decision, which was reversed in the latest turn, ruled that the DMV must issue Choose Life plates. The lawsuit began in 2004, when the DMV imposed a still-standing moratorium on new custom plate applications. Gov. Andrew Cuomo broke that moratorium, however, when the New York Giants won the Superbowl in 2012.

Twenty-nine states allow Choose Life license tags. Tedesco said the organization would review its legal options.

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