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'Choose Life' plates opponents ask full appeals court to hear case

By The Associated Press

04.16.02

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NEW ORLEANS — Opponents of the state's plan to issue license plates bearing the anti-abortion motto "Choose Life" filed a new challenge in a federal appeals court April 12.

The petition asks the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which threw out a lawsuit seeking to block the state from issuing the plates, to rehear arguments in the case.

A three-judge panel of the appellate court ruled 2-1 March 29 that the abortion-rights supporters who filed the lawsuit did not have standing to sue the state over the issue. The ruling sent the matter back to U.S. District Judge Stanwood Duval Jr. with an order to dismiss.

Lawyers for the Center for Reproductive Law and Policy now want a full 15-member panel to hear arguments in the case.

The three-judge panel misunderstood the case and directly contradicted well established First Amendment case law, attorney Bill Rittenberg wrote in the petition.

Rittenberg cited prior cases and also the dissent in the 5th Circuit's recent ruling in seeking to show that opponents of the Choose Life plates had standing to file suit.

In throwing out the case last month, the 5th Circuit's two-judge majority ruled that blocking the plate from going into circulation would have no effect on the plaintiff's alleged inability to win legislative approval of an abortion-rights plate. Thus the plaintiff, in this case Doreen Keeler, had no standing.

But prior rulings have held that one group is injured when the government provides a specific forum for one side on an argument and denies opposing views, Rittenberg wrote. In this case, it is clear the Legislature would not approve a pro-abortion license plate and, according to prior case law, the plaintiffs need not even apply for one to show that.

Rittenberg also said the 5th Circuit improperly rejected the argument that printing the plate would violate taxpayers' rights.

The state law allows Christian organizations that oppose abortion to decide how to spend revenue generated by the license plates. Rittenberg cited case law prohibiting governments from allowing specific religious groups to decide how state revenues can be spent.

Judge William H. Barbour, a district judge temporarily assigned to the 5th Circuit, wrote the majority ruling. It's not clear when the 5th Circuit will decide whether to hear the case.

Update

Federal appeals court won't reinstate challenge to 'Choose Life' plates
Attorney for Louisiana abortion-rights supporters says he's 'strongly considering' appeal to Supreme Court.  08.13.02

Previous

Attorneys for state seek green light for 'Choose Life' plates
Federal appeals court hears arguments from Louisiana officials who want injunction blocking sale of tags lifted.  08.10.01

Related

Abortion-rights group challenges Florida's 'Choose Life' plates
Federal lawsuit says process for distributing funds from tag sales violates church-state separation, free speech.  01.21.02

Kansas governor nixes 'Choose Life' plates
Meanwhile, lawmakers revive effort to create similar tags in Oklahoma.  04.26.02

Abortion-rights activists criticize new Oklahoma 'Choose Life' plates
'By producing plates that are pro-life, the government is authorizing unconstitutional speech by opponents of abortion,' says Planned Parenthood representative.  05.25.02

S.C. 'Choose Life' license plates put on hold
Federal judge grants preliminary injunction sought by Planned Parenthood.  11.20.01

Federal judge throws out challenge to Florida's 'Choose Life' plates
Court says abortion-rights groups lack sufficient evidence to back claims that fee-distribution process violates church-state separation, free speech.  07.19.02

S.C. 'Choose Life' plates held unconstitutional
Federal court judge's ruling may mean another anti-abortion license-plate case could be heading to U.S. Supreme Court.  01.02.03

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