ACLU of North Carolina Files Lawsuit Challenging Discriminatory License Plate Scheme

September 8, 2011 12:00 am

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State Authorizes Anti-Choice License Plate While Expressly Refusing Pro-Choice Alternative, In Clear Violation of the Public’s First Amendment Rights

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RALEIGH – The American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina Legal Foundation (ACLU-NCLF) filed a lawsuit today in the federal district court for the Eastern District of North Carolina on behalf of North Carolinians seeking a specialty license plate that supports a woman’s right to reproductive freedom. During this year’s legislative session, the North Carolina General Assembly passed House Bill 289, which authorized the issuance of a “Choose Life” license plate. However, the legislature repeatedly refused to authorize a plate that supported the countervailing position in favor of reproductive freedom. Six amendments were proposed in the legislature to authorize an additional new plate that stated either, “Trust Women. Respect Choice,” or simply “Respect Choice.” The legislature rejected all six amendments. As such, the lawsuit alleges that the State is engaging in unconstitutional viewpoint discrimination in violation of the First Amendment.

“If anti-choice drivers are permitted to express their views on their license plates, people like me should be able to express our view that women deserve full reproductive freedom,” said Sue Holliday, plaintiff and certified nurse midwife.

The lawsuit asks the Court to declare that the current license plate scheme constitutes viewpoint discrimination in violation of the First Amendment and to order the State to cease developing and issuing the “Choose Life” license plate without authorizing a countervailing pro-choice plate.

The following statement may be attributed to Katherine Lewis Parker, Legal Director of the ACLU-NCLF:

“This is a basic issue of freedom of speech and fairness. It is a fundamental tenet of the First Amendment that the State cannot use its authority to promote one side of a debate while denying the same opportunity to the other side. Anyone who supports freedom of speech should agree with this stance, regardless of one’s position on abortion. Our position would be the same if the State had authorized a pro-choice license plate but not an anti-choice alternative. In that situation, the ACLU-NCLF would be suing on behalf of anti-choice drivers under the exact same theory of viewpoint discrimination.”

The Plaintiffs are the ACLU of North Carolina (on behalf of its statewide membership) and pro-choice automobile owners Sue Holliday, Dean Debnam, Maria Magher and Chris Heaney. All Plaintiffs in this lawsuit are represented by Katherine Lewis Parker, Legal Director of the ACLU-NCLF.
A copy of the complaint can be found on the ACLU of North Carolina’s website at

The ACLU of North Carolina is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization dedicated to preserving and expanding the guarantees of individual liberty found in the United States Constitution, the North Carolina Constitution, and related federal and state civil rights laws. With approximately 6,800 members throughout the state and an office located in Raleigh, the organization achieves its mission through advocacy, public education, community outreach, and when necessary, litigation.

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