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Federal appeals court won't reinstate challenge to 'Choose Life' plates

By The Associated Press

08.13.02

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NEW ORLEANS — A federal appeals court has refused to revisit a lawsuit challenging Louisiana's plan to issue "Choose Life" license plates.

Bill Rittenberg, a lawyer for abortion-rights supporters who oppose the plates, said yesterday that he was surprised by the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals' refusal late on Aug. 9 to reconsider the case.

Rittenberg said he was "strongly considering" an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

If an appeal is filed, Rittenberg said, he will try to persuade the 5th Circuit to issue a stay, which would block the state from issuing the specialty license plate while the appeal is pending.

U.S. District Judge Stanwood Duval Jr. of New Orleans halted the plates in August 2000, ruling that the "Choose Life" legislation was "very likely an unconstitutional restraint of free speech" because it gave voice to the state's anti-abortion viewpoint, but not to those who hold the opposite view. Duval blocked the state from printing and distributing the plate until the matter went to trial.

At the time of Duval's ruling, none of the roughly 200 "Choose life" plates ordered by motorists had been printed.

In March, a three-judge 5th Circuit panel ordered Duval to dismiss the lawsuit challenging the plates, saying abortion-rights supporters lacked the legal standing to sue over the issue. The panel said blocking the "Choose Life" plate from going into circulation would not give the opponents a place to express their views.

The 5th Circuit did not address the constitutionality of the 1999 Louisiana law.

The "Choose Life" plate has a picture of a baby wrapped in a blanket in the beak of a brown pelican, the state bird. Like other specialty plates, it costs $25 more a year than a regular license plate. Money raised by the "Choose Life" plates is earmarked for organizations that counsel expectant mothers who are considering giving up their child for adoption.

Update

Supreme Court won't stay ruling on Louisiana 'Choose Life' plates
Opponents promptly file second request asking justices to block any sales of plates until case is argued on its merits.  10.02.02

Previous

'Choose Life' plates opponents ask full appeals court to hear case
5th Circuit panel had sent case back to lower court with instructions to dismiss, saying plaintiffs didn't have standing to sue Louisiana.  04.16.02

Related

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. official: 'Choose Life' is government, not private, speech
Attorney general makes claim in documents filed in Planned Parenthood lawsuit challenging state's license plates.  09.21.02

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

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

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