Sen.-Elect Tillis Backs NC ‘Choose Life’ License Plates

The Republican senator-elect from North Carolina, Thom Tillis, is among those who have urged the U.S. Supreme Court to rule that his state can issue license plates that say "Choose Life."

The issue is among several the justices will discuss in their regular Friday conference about potential new cases to grant.

In 2011, when Tillis was the speaker of the North Carolina House of Representatives, the legislature authorized several new specialty license plates, including one that bore the message "Choose Life." Unlike other states, North Carolina does not have a procedure for drivers to get specialty plates just by asking. Instead, the state legislature must authorize each one.

The ACLU filed a lawsuit, and two federal courts ruled that the state could not issue the plates without also offering the contrary view, bearing a message such as "Respect Choice," an alternative that was proposed but rejected during the state legislature's debate.

The state's action "constitutes blatant viewpoint discrimination squarely at odds with the First Amendment," said the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

The federal courts are divided on whether the message on a license plate is strictly government speech — in which case states would have more freedom to say what they want — or a mixture of government and private speech. The 6th Circuit allowed Tennessee to offer a "Choose Life" plate, ruling that it's the state's message spread by volunteers.


— Pete Williams