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On The Front Lines

Controversial Bill Requiring California to Issue "Choose Life" License Plates Passes Constitutional Muster

John Whitehead, President of The Rutherford Institute, Offers Analysis on California Senate Bill 2248

-In a recent letter to members of the California State Assembly's committee on transportation, John W. Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute, offered his analysis on the constitutionality of Senate Bill 2248, which requires the state to issue a "Choose Life" license plate. Whitehead was asked by the Women's Resource Network of California to comment on the constitutionality of the bill and to address concerns raised by reproductive rights organizations. The Rutherford Institute has considerable expertise in First Amendment issues like these, having litigated numerous federal court cases across the country involving the constitutional implications of private and organizational speech on state-issued specialty and vanity plates.

Senate Bill 2248 adds to the California Vehicle Code a new section that requires the Transportation Department to design and make available special-interest license plates that bear the words "Choose Life." Proceeds from these plates will go to not-for-profit organizations that help pregnant women who have decided to place their newborns for adoption. In Whitehead's opinion, SB 2248 is constitutional. Citing recent court challenges to other "Choose Life" plate programs, he points out that every legal action brought against a state's "Choose Life" plate program has been rejected. And in response to reproductive rights groups who claim the bill is unconstitutional because it "discriminates" against the pro-abortion point of view, Whitehead writes, "The Constitution does not require the Assembly to be schizophrenic. The Assembly may issue a Ronald Reagan Presidential Library license plate without also issuing a special-interest plate critical of the former president." Whitehead also points out that the bill does not deprive women of the right to an abortion; it simply establishes a funded program to assist women who choose to bear children.

"The state has the highest interest in aiding efforts that protect life," says Whitehead. "By issuing 'Choose Life' plates the state is simply fulfilling its traditional role in life concerns."

The Rutherford Institute is an international, nonprofit civil liberties organization committed to defending constitutional and human rights.

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