Choose Life of Mo., Inc. v. Vincent

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In Choose Life of Mo., Inc. v. Vincent, 2008 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 6524 (W.D. Mo. 2008), a federal court invalidated Missouri Statute 21.795(6) as unconstitutional and entered an injunction requiring Missouri to issue the Choose Life specialty license plate.

District Court Judge Scott Wright ruled for the court.

Background

Choose Life of Missouri and its founder, college student and conservative activist Kevin Roach, sought to have a specialty plate with the slogan "Choose Life" as other states have offered. But Missouri refused.

The Alliance Defense Fund, a conservative legal group, represented them in filing a lawsuit against Missouri. They argued that Missouri deprived the pro-life organization and citizens of their rights to free speech in conveying their position through license plates.

The Joint Committee on Transportation Oversight is authorized by state law to deny specialty plates without giving specific reasons. A specialty license plate may be denied if "either five representatives or two state senators submit signed petitions opposing the application or if one of the members of the joint committee denies the application."

The application for Choose Life's private message came before this committee on February 21, 2006, along with four other applications from Friends for Autism, Missouri Cattleman, Missouri Caves and Karst Conservancy, and Missouri Support our Troops. All four accompanying applications were approved, while the Choose Life application was denied. Two pro-abortion state senators and members of the Joint Committee - Joan Bray and Rita Heard Days - sent a letter to its chairman opposing the application. Choose Life appealed this decision, and the two state senators opposed the application once again. The Joint Committee again rejected Choose Life’s arguments, and Choose Life sued in court.

Choose Life, through its attorneys, argued that "when a private organization obtains a specialty license plate, the message on the plate is private speech, not government speech." It argued that "the private organization creates the message when it submits its application to the Missouri Department of Revenue and the State of Missouri does not create or vote on the message to be contained on the specialty license plate. Therefore, ... even if the Joint Committee had approved Choose Life’s application for a specialty license plate, the message chosen by Choose Life could not be inferred as being the speech or message of the State of Missouri."

Judge Wright, speaking for the court, agreed and ordered Missouri to approve Choose Life's specialty license plate.

Appeal

Missouri, through its Democratic-controlled Attorney General's office, has appealed this decision in order to censor the Choose Life license plates. Missouri sought to block Judge Wright's order during the appeal, but the Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit rejected that request. Missouri drivers can immediately exercise their First Amendment right to free speech to drive with the slogan "Choose Life" on their license plates.

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