ACLU and Planned Parenthood Ask Tennessee Court to Block Anti-Choice License Plate

Affiliate: ACLU of Tennessee
September 23, 2004 12:00 am

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NASHVILLE — The American Civil Liberties Union argued today in a Tennessee court against an anti-abortion-rights specialty license plate, saying it discriminates against opposing viewpoints.

“If the state held a town meeting tomorrow to discuss the posting of the Ten Commandments at the state house, it couldn’t open the floor only to people who support the religious displays,” said Julie Sternberg, a lawyer with the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project, who argued the case before the court today. “Authorizing a specialty license plate that represents only one side of the abortion debate discriminates against people with an opposing point of view.”

The law in question makes a “Choose Life” license plate available to motorists for an annual fee of $35 over and above the basic costs of registering a car in the state. Fifty percent of all funds raised, after expenses, go to a private anti-choice organization called New Life Resources.

The legislature twice rejected an amendment that would have authorized a “Pro Choice” specialty plate.

“Motorists are free to contribute directly to organizations of their own choosing,” said Hedy Weinberg, Executive Director of the ACLU of Tennessee. “But the state cannot set up a scheme that favors one point of view over another and funnels money to organizations that represent only one side of a political debate.”

The lawsuit challenges not only the statute authorizing the “Choose Life” plates but also the legislature’s general policy and practice of approving specialty license plates. The ACLU argued in court that the current policy allows discrimination against those with viewpoints that the General Assembly does not condone.

Plaintiffs in the case include the ACLU of Tennessee, Planned Parenthood of Middle and East Tennessee, Inc., and three individuals. Lawyers on the case include Sternberg and Caroline Mala Corbin, and Carrie Flaxman of the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project; Roger Evans and Donna Lee of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America; George E. Barrett and Edmund L. Carey Jr. of Barrett, Johnston, & Parsley, and Susan L. Kay, the ACLU of Tennessee Legal Committee Chair.

The case, ACLU of Tennessee v. Bredesen, #03-1046, was argued today in U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee, Nashville Division.

The ACLU brief is available at: /ReproductiveRights/ReproductiveRights.cfm?ID=16522&c=30.

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