- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 4, 2002

The widening crusade to add the slogan "Choose Life" to auto tags received a boost last week when a federal appeals court dismissed a challenge to a Louisiana program that uses $25 from each specialty license plate sold to help fund adoptions.
"We hold that the plaintiffs in this case have not shown that they have standing to challenge the constitutionality of Louisiana's law," said the 2-1 opinion filed Friday in New Orleans by a U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals panel comprising three Reagan appointees.
The decision ends separate lawsuits by groups that accused Louisiana of unconstitutionally sanctioning religion and infringing on their free-speech rights. Complainants included a group of taxpayers, Planned Parenthood and the National Council of Jewish Women, which charged the law advances "Christian fundamentalism."
It also dissolves an injunction barring Louisiana from joining Florida in making "Choose Life" plates available for an extra fee and lifts a roadblock against the "prestige tags."
District Judge William H. Barbour Jr. called the claims "conjecture" in the written opinion and explained separately why each plaintiff had no basis to block the program.
In the dissent, Circuit Judge W. Eugene Davis said: "I see no principled reason why plaintiffs raising free speech claims in this case do not have standing to attack the 'Choose Life' statute."
Circuit Judge Edith H. Jones voted with Judge Barbour on every point but wrote separately to attack Judge Davis's dissent, which, she said, "would transform the First Amendment into a device for censorship rather than the enhancement of free speech."
Brigitte Amiri, lawyer for the Center for Reproductive Law & Policy (CRLP) in New York, which led opposition to the Louisiana law, said the dissent shows why the opinion is wrong.
"For people who don't come down on just a pro-life or pro-choice viewpoint there are lots of positions in between. We're definitely going to continue fighting," she said, indicating CRLP intends to ask the full 5th Circuit to rehear the case.
Some pro-choice groups backed a failed effort to have the Legislature also offer "Choose Choice" plates.
Although the outcome is certain to be appealed to the Supreme Court, which once called sloganeering license tags "mobile billboards," lawyers on both sides agreed the justices seem unlikely to intervene.
"The circuit court said there was no showing right now that in distributing the fund the groups would advance religious ideology, so I suppose that down the road CRLP could make that argument, but for some the pro-life issue is more a moral issue than a religious one," said Heidi Abegg of the District, lawyer for Concerned Women for America (CWA) and its Louisiana state director, Leonise Ditoro.
Florida annually distributes $650,000 from its tag program through county governments, some of which delegated spending decisions to Catholic Charities, said Miss Amiri who failed in February to have a Miami federal judge halt that program.
Alabama and South Carolina also passed laws permitting "Choose Life" tags. Similar proposals are on the table in California, Iowa, Illinois, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania and West Virginia.

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