ACLU Troubled By Appeals Court Decision Allowing Anti-Choice License Plate in Tennessee

March 17, 2006
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE   
CONTACT: media@aclu.org

CINCINNATI – The American Civil Liberties Union said it was troubled by a Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals decision today allowing an anti-abortion specialty license plate in Tennessee.  In promoting an anti-choice plate, while opposing a pro-choice one, the state has set up a discriminatory scheme, the ACLU said.

“We are disappointed that the court said that Tennessee can use state dollars to promote one viewpoint while silencing another,” said Julie Sternberg, Senior Staff Attorney with the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project. “The decision permits discrimination and fails to protect free speech.”

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, will 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.

On September 24, 2004, a federal district court blocked the state from distributing “Choose Life” plates, saying that the state’s sponsorship of such plates constitutes discrimination.  The case was appealed to the Sixth Circuit which issued today’s ruling.

“The court said in its decision that messages on specialty license plates are government speech,” said Hedy Weinberg, Executive Director of the ACLU of Tennessee. “This position is inconsistent with the reality of the license plate program.  It suggests that plates for the Sons of Confederate Veterans and the University of Florida are state speech.  This is absurd.”

The ACLU said it would consider potential next steps in the case over the coming weeks. 

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 Carrie Flaxman with the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project; Roger Evans of Planned Parenthood Federation of America; and Susan L. Kay, the ACLU of Tennessee Legal Committee Chair.

Today’s case is ACLU of Tennessee v. Bredesen, #03-1046. The decision is available at: www.ca6.uscourts.gov/opinions.pdf/06a0099p-06.pdf

Statistics image