Courts backs release of 'Choose Life' license plates in Missouri

JEFFERSON CITY | A federal appeals court on Thursday upheld a lower court ruling requiring the Missouri Department of Revenue to issue a license plate with an anti-abortion message.

A nonprofit group, Choose Life of Missouri Inc., applied in 2005 to have specialty plates reading "Choose Life" included among the plates available to Missouri drivers. A legislative committee rejected the application based on the objections of two lawmakers.

The group sued, and in 2008 a federal district court ruled in its favor, finding a portion of the law governing specialty plates to be unconstitutional and requiring the Department of Revenue to issue the "Choose Life" plates.

The 8th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld both of the lower court's orders.

The appeal turned on whether a specialized license plate issued by the state represented the private speech of the driver or the government speech of the state.

Reflecting the lower court's view and rulings in other courts across the country, the 8th Circuit found the plates to be private speech. Thus, it ruled, a legislative committee had no authority to deny issuance of a plate based on the views of its sponsors.

A Department of Revenue spokesman said the department had not decided whether to pursue an appeal.

Choose Life license plates are currently available in Missouri. They were introduced last year, following the district court ruling.