Federal judge throws out challenge to Florida's 'Choose Life' plates
By The Associated Press,
MIAMI A federal judge has ruled against abortion-rights activists who had tried to stop the distribution of fees from state license plates bearing the slogan "Choose Life."
On July 15, U.S. District Judge K. Michael Moore denied the abortion-rights groups' request to ban distribution of the money, saying the groups lacked sufficient evidence to back their claims.
The abortion-rights groups, represented by New York-based Center for Reproductive Law and Policy, had challenged the state law because it reserves tag profits for agencies offering adoption services, but not abortions.
The groups argued that the payments violate both the constitutional separation of church and state and their free-speech rights.
Brigitte Amiri, attorney for the center, said the groups would appeal.
"It's really the tip of the iceberg with regards to our claims," Amiri said. "Because it was a procedural issue, he didn't get to the meat and the bones of our claims."
The Liberty Counsel, a religious-rights law firm that represented two abortion opponents allowed to intervene in the case, praised the court's ruling.
"We are pleased the Court tossed out the lawsuit," said Mathew Staver, the group's president, in a news release. "Once the state has authorized the production of numerous messages on specialty plates, the court cannot eliminate one message while allowing the other messages to proceed."
The Liberty Counsel had argued that striking down the law allowing the plates would violate abortion opponents' free-speech rights. The court agreed.
Striking down the law would "deprive the current speakers, including Defendants [Patricia] Morris and [Edwina] Booth, of their rights to free speech as secured by the First Amendment," the judge ruled, as quoted in the Liberty Counsel news release.
Jim Dean, who represents the state's Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles, which issues the plates, said he was pleased with the ruling and was confident Moore's decision would survive an appeal.
The state gave about $500,000 in fees from "Choose Life" tag sales to counties in the first round of payments last August.
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