This morning, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit ruled for the State of North Carolina in an ACLU challenge to North Carolina’s choice to issue pro-life license plate designs while rejecting pro-choice designs. The court reasoned that North Carolina’s specialty license plate program constitutes “government speech” and the state is therefore free to choose what messages it expresses and does not express. The ACLU has argued that the state’s issuance of only “pro-life” license plates constitutes unconstitutional viewpoint discrimination.
The Fourth Circuit relied largely on a 2015 decision by the United States Supreme Court holding that State of Texas was free to refuse to issue plates featuring a Confederate Flag design. Chief Judge William Byrd Traxler, writing for the majority on the Fourth Circuit, held that the Texas case is controlling.
Judge James A. Wynn, Jr. dissented (beginning on page six of the pdf). He reasoned that even given the Supreme Court’s opinion in Walker, the North Carolina specialty plate program still includes elements of private speech that therefore prohibit the state from discriminating based on viewpoint.
You can read the entire Fourth Circuit decision here.
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