On Thursday, a federal appeals court reversed an earlier ruling and found that North Carolina could legally offer a license plate with an anti-abortion message—without offering a pro-choice option.
The legal battle has been going on for years—in 2011, the ACLU of North Carolina sued the state after six tries to issue a license plate with an opposing message were shot down. The ACLU argued that the license plates constituted private speech, and only offering one stance violated First Amendment rights.
The appeals court previously had blocked the anti-abortion plate, ruling the state’s refusal to also offer a plate with an abortion rights slogan such as “Respect Choice” constituted “viewpoint discrimination in violation of the First Amendment.”
But the court reversed itself in light of a U.S. Supreme Court Decision last year in a case involving specialty license plates in Texas. Justices ruled Texas had not violated free speech rights by rejecting a proposed license plate featuring the Confederate flag because state-issued plates are government speech, not private speech.
“We now conclude that specialty license plates issued under North Carolina’s program amount to government speech and that North Carolina is therefore free to reject license plate designs that convey messages with which it disagrees,” wrote Chief Judge William Traxler according to the Charlotte Observer.
Other custom license plates available to state residents (out of almost 200 options) include NASCAR Ford Racing, NASCAR Hall of Fame, NASCAR Race Fan, NASCAR Generic Design, and the National Rifle Association.
North Carolina ACLU’s acting executive director Sarah Preston said in a statement, “It’s very disappointing that North Carolina can now deny drivers on one side of this contentious issue an equal ability to express their views.”
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Image via North Carolina Dept. of Transportation/Choose Life.