General Assembly Must Pass Pro-Choice License Plate Bill

Affiliate: ACLU of Virginia
February 5, 2010 12:00 am

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Civil liberties group hopeful that legislators will follow last year’s anti-choice license plate with pro-choice plate this year, but is prepared to litigate if necessary


Richmond, VA – The ACLU of Virginia is urging members of the Virginia General Assembly to support Senate and House bills that authorize a pro-choice specialty license plate. The plate, containing the phrase Trust Women, Respect Choice, counters a law passed in 2009 authorizing a Choose Life license plate.

Under recent court decisions, specialty license plates are considered to be a public forum, and in a public forum all viewpoints must be equally accepted. For the General Assembly to authorize an anti-choice plate but not a pro-choice plate violates this fundamental principle of free speech.

“Before the final vote takes place, all legislators will have received a memo from us explaining why they are required by the Constitution to approve the pro-choice license plate,” said ACLU of Virginia Executive Director Kent Willis. “This is one time lawmakers need to set aside their views on reproductive rights and let the First Amendment be their guide. If they can do that, the pro-choice license plate will be easily approved. If not we’re undoubtedly headed to court.”

The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals has consistently held that specialty license plates are subject to the First Amendment. In 2002, the Fourth Circuit ordered DMV to restore a Confederate battle flag the General Assembly had stripped from a specialty plate created for the Sons of Confederate Veterans. In 2004, the Fourth Circuit ordered South Carolina to halt production of an anti-choice plate after a pro-choice plate failed to be approved by the legislature.

The ACLU of Virginia has repeatedly asked legislators to move the specialty license plate authorization process to DMV, where it would be administered in a viewpoint neutral manner using rules similar to those that govern vanity license plates.

“If you think about it, it is counterintuitive for lawmakers to be deciding who gets to have a specialty license plate and who doesn’t,” added Willis. “Public officials are elected because of their political views and expected to vote in accordance with those views. Yet the Constitution requires them to be viewpoint neutral when voting on specialty license plates.”

There are two identical pro-choice license plate bills in the General Assembly, SB 704 and HB 1108. Funds generated by the sale of the plate will support Planned Parenthood’s health and family planning programs.

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