- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 6, 2003

Attorney General Jerry W. Kilgore said yesterday that if Gov. Mark Warner signs a law allowing Virginia residents to put a "Choose Life" license plate on their vehicles, he will defend against any legal challenges.
The General Assembly voted during this session in favor of legislation to create the plates.
"It's my responsibility to defend laws passed by the General Assembly, and I believe clearly this one can be defended," Mr. Kilgore said.
He also cited a U.S. Supreme Court ruling involving Planned Parenthood as a legal precedent.
The plate has a picture of children's faces and words that look as if they were written by a child.
The plate would cost $50 instead of the standard $25 fee. Profits from the sale of the plate would be distributed to agencies that promote adoption.
The American Civil Liberties Union has said it would challenge the law because the plate violates the First Amendment. The plate is controversial, it says, because "Choose Life" is considered a slogan of the pro-life movement, which opposes abortion.
After the General Assembly adjourned last month, Kent Willis, executive director of the Virginia ACLU, asked Mr. Warner to veto the legislation.
"A bedrock principle of the First Amendment is that the government must act with complete neutrality regarding private expression in a public forum," Mr. Willis wrote. "A legislature that has the power, by majority rule, to decide which messages will be placed on special license plates violates the free-speech rights of its citizens every time it votes to authorize a new plate."
Mr. Warner, a Democrat, has until March 24 to sign, veto or amend legislation passed by the General Assembly.
His press secretary, Ellen Qualls, said: "The governor has expressed concerns in the past about using license plates as a form of political speech."
Delegate Richard H. Black, the bill's primary sponsor, wants Mr. Warner to sign the legislation because he thinks the plate creates a "simple message of support" for women facing unplanned pregnancies.
"The governor should sit down and take a deep breath before he makes a decision," said Mr. Black, Loudoun County Republican. "The people who oppose this message are very hateful toward children."
In response, Mr. Willis said the plate creates a situation in which the state is sanctioning only one side of a polarizing issue.
"This is a free-speech issue," he said. "If the General Assembly had passed a bill [allowing] a pro-choice message, not one that was opposed to abortion, we still would contest it."
Similar plates have been approved in Louisiana and Florida and are under consideration in about a dozen other states.
A federal judge in South Carolina ruled last year the plate was unconstitutional, saying it violated the First Amendment because it gave a public forum only to the pro-life side.
The issue is now under review in the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
Mr. Kilgore said the Virginia plate is different because it promotes adoption and is not a political statement.
"States are allowed to support adoption-related services, and that's what this plate does," he said.
Moves to amend the bill using the words "Choose Adoption" or allow for a plate with the slogan "Pro Family, Pro Choice" were defeated in Virginia General Assembly committees.
"In order to have an adoption, you must first have a life," said Mr. Black, who opposed the change. "The opposite of 'Choose Life' would be 'Choose Death.'"

Copyright © 2019 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.

 

Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide