Saturday, November 08, 2008

7th Circuit Says Illinois May Reject "Choose Life" License Plates

In Choose Life Illinois, Inc. v. White, (7th Cir., Nov. 7, 2008), the U.S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the refusal of the state Secretary of State to issue a special "Choose Life" license plate after proponents obtained the requisite number of signatures requesting it. The court said:
Specialty license plates implicate the speech rights of private speakers, not the government-speech doctrine. This triggers First Amendment "forum" analysis, and we conclude specialty plates are a nonpublic forum. Illinois may not discriminate on the basis of viewpoint, but it may control access to the forum based on the content of a proposed message—provided that any content-based restrictions are reasonable. The distinction between content and viewpoint discrimination makes a difference here.

It is undisputed that Illinois has excluded the entire subject of abortion from its specialty-plate program; it has authorized neither a pro-life plate nor a pro-choice plate. It has done so on the reasonable rationale that messages on specialty license plates give the appearance of having the government’s endorsement, and Illinois does not wish to be perceived as endorsing any position on the subject of abortion. The State’s rejection of a "Choose Life" license plate was thus content based but viewpoint neutral, and because it was also reasonable, there is no First Amendment violation.
Judge Manion wrote a concurring opinion. The court’s decision reversed the district court that had ordered the Secretary of State to issue the specialty plates. (See prior posting.) Today’s Chicago Sun Times reports on the 7th Circuit’s decision. The Thomas More Society, representing Choose Life Illinois, announced that they will seek a rehearing, and if that fails will seek Supreme Court review. [Thanks to Alliance Alert for the lead.]