Supreme Court allows pro-life plates to stand in two states


WASHINGTON — The United States Supreme Court permitted pro-life license plates in Louisiana and Tennessee by refusing June 26 to accept challenges to those states' approval of such auto tags.

By declining to review lower court decisions, the high court allowed to stand rulings in the Fifth and Sixth Circuit Courts of Appeals upholding the legality of license plates bearing the message "Choose Life" in Louisiana and Tennessee, respectively.

The Tennessee pro-life plates, which cost $35 more than a regular auto tag, are expected to be available this fall, The Tennessean reported. Louisiana resumed sale of "Choose Life" tags in January after a favorable appeals court action, according to The Times-Picayune in New Orleans.

The Supreme Court's refusal to hear the cases means there are conflicting opinions in the circuit court system regarding pro-life tags. While the Fifth and Sixth circuits have ruled in favor of pro-life plates, the Fourth Circuit has ruled against them. In 2005, the Supreme Court declined to review a Fourth Circuit opinion that said South Carolina's "Choose Life" tags violate the First Amendment by not permitting an abortion rights message in the same forum.

Michael Crampton, a lawyer with the American Family Association's Center for Law and Policy, said he believes the Supreme Court eventually will have to rule on such a license plate case.

"I think the court is setting a fairly cautious agenda for the future," Crampton told The Times-Picayune. "A lot of this is to be expected from a court that is not reaching out to take cases and attempt to set policy, so in that sense I applaud the decision."

In each case acted on June 26, a federal judge ruled against the pro-life plates, but an appeals court panel overturned the ruling.

More than 1,200 Tennesseans pre-purchased "Choose Life" plates, according to The Tennessean.

"Tennesseans have waited long enough to get this plate on the road and generating proceeds for agencies which help women and families facing difficult pregnancies," said Brian Harris, president of Tennessee Right to Life, according to The Tennessean.

Fifty percent of proceeds from the Tennessee pro-life plates will be distributed to pro-life agencies, The Tennessean reported.

The Fifth Circuit includes Mississippi and Texas, in addition to Louisiana. The Sixth Circuit consists not only of Tennessee but also Kentucky, Ohio and Michigan. In addition to South Carolina, the Fourth Circuit includes Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia and North Carolina.

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