About this Case

The state of North Carolina issued a "Choose Life" license plate, but would not issue a pro-abortion "Respect Choice" license plate. The ACLU sued North Carolina, alleging this different treatment was a violation of the First Amendment. The U.S. District Court and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit agreed with the ACLU that the specialty license plate was “private speech” and ruled against the state.  The state appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which vacated the Fourth Circuit’s decision and returned the case for further action in light of another recently decided Supreme Court case.  In that case, the Supreme Court held that specialty license plates constituted “government speech” and that states could reject designs conveying messages with which the state disagreed.

Summary of NLF's Brief

In our brief for the first Fourth Circuit case, we argued that North Carolina’s issuance of the “Choose Life” license plates constituted government speech.  The legislative history of the bill authorizing the “Choose Life” plate demonstrates that the message is government speech. Second, the fact that North Carolina advertises its specialty plate program as a chance for drivers to show off their interests is a valid way for the state to recruit third parties to help the state disseminate the state’s message.