Backed by state law, the "Choose Life" plate is available to motorists for an additional fee of $35 over and above the basic costs of registering a car in Tennessee. Fifty percent of all funds raised, after expenses, go to a private anti-choice organization called New Life Resources.
The Tennessee legislature has twice rejected an amendment that would have authorized a similar "Pro Choice" specialty license plate.
"If the state held a town meeting tomorrow to discuss the posting of the Ten Commandments at the state house, it couldnt open the floor only to people who support the religious displays," said Julie Sternberg, a lawyer with the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project, who argued the case in court. "Authorizing a specialty license plate that represents only one side of the abortion debate discriminates against people with an opposing point of view."
"Motorists are free to contribute directly to organizations of their own choosing," said Hedy Weinberg, Executive Director of the ACLU of Tennessee. "But the state cannot set up a scheme that favors one point of view over another and funnels money to organizations that represent only one side of a political debate."
The ACLU's lawsuit challenges not only the statute authorizing the "Choose Life" plates but also the legislatures general policy and practice of approving specialty license plates. The ACLU argued in court that the current policy allows discrimination against those with viewpoints that the General Assembly does not condone.
Plaintiffs in the case include the ACLU of Tennessee, Planned Parenthood of Middle and East Tennessee, Inc., and three individuals.
The case, ACLU of Tennessee v. Bredesen, #03-1046, was presented to the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee, Nashville Division.
The brief, filed by the ACLU, can be read at http://www.aclu.org/ReproductiveRights/ReproductiveRights.cfm?ID=16522&c=30.