More than a year after U.S. District Court Judge Todd Campbell enjoined distribution of Tennessee’s Choose Life specialty license plate, pro-life forces are preparing to make their case in an appeal before the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati. “Recent decisions by the U.S. Supreme Court continue to underscore what we’ve said all along,” said Brian Harris, President of Tennessee Right to Life. “Legislatures have not only the right to make policy decisions which favor specific viewpoints, they also have a responsibility to do so,” said Harris.
Oral arguments in the lawsuit, ACLU v. Bredesen, have been set for 9:00 a.m. (EST), Wednesday, November 2, 2005 at the Court of Appeals, 100 E. Fifth Street in Cincinnati.
At question in the case is whether specialty license plates reflect the views of individuals or views of state government. Pro-abortion activists have so far succeeded in blocking the pro-life plate claiming that the Tennessee Legislature could not authorize the Choose Life plate without also making provision for a pro-abortion plate.
Harris says, however, that the U.S. Supreme Court has specifically ruled on the question and has plainly stated on several occasions that, while states may not criminalize abortion, state legislators may make policy decisions which favor “normal childbirth over abortion.” The Supreme Court has also held that states may refuse to fund abortions even while funding programs which assist pregnant women in bringing the unborn child to birth. “Tennessee’s Choose Life plate is clearly a program in which the legislators overwhelmingly agreed that providing practical assistance to women facing difficult pregnancies was both benevolent and appropriate,” said Harris.
The Choose Life plate passed overwhelmingly in the final days of the 2003 legislative session 80-14 in the state House and 26-4 in the state Senate. Pro-abortion Governor Bredesen refused to sign the bill into law, allowing it to take effect without his signature. Supporters of the plate quickly presented more than the required pre-paid applications and submitted 1,265 applications in just six months representing drivers from each of the state’s 95 counties. Those applications are still being held by the Tennessee Department of Safety pending the outcome of the Choose Life lawsuit filed by the ACLU and Planned Parenthood against distribution of the plates.
The Bredesen administration has refused to defend the Choose Life plate in the appeal leaving only pro-life advocates to argue against the ACLU in support of free speech, fair treatment, and equal access.
“There’s not another non-profit which can match the immediate public support realized by the Choose Life plate,” said Harris. Many non-profits have failed to meet the one year limit to collect the required 1,000 applications and have had to seek legislative extensions. “The other side wants to talk about fairness, I encourage them to introduce a bill if they want their own plate,” said Harris. “All we’re looking for is a fair opportunity to do what every other Tennessee non-profit is allowed to do. Give us the exact same consideration accorded other non-profits and I guarantee we’ll come out just fine.”