New York Can Ban ‘Choose Life’ License Plates, Federal Appeals Court Rules

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from The Huffington Post,

A divided federal appeals court gave New York wide authority to regulate the content of custom license plates, and reversed a lower court ruling ordering the state to let an adoption advocacy group put the words “Choose Life” on its own plates.

By a 2-1 vote, the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said the commissioner of the state Department of Motor Vehicles had “broad discretion” to decide which plates to permit, and did not violate the First Amendment free speech rights of the Children First Foundation in rejecting the “Choose Life” plates.

Writing for the majority, Circuit Judge Rosemary Pooler said the content of custom plates was “private speech” and the plates themselves a “nonpublic forum.”

She said it followed that the DMV’s uniform policy of excluding controversial, politically sensitive messages from plates, which the agency said stemmed from highway safety concerns, was “reasonable and viewpoint neutral, which is all that the First Amendment requires.”

The 2nd Circuit ruled as the U.S. Supreme Court prepares to decide whether Texas violated the First Amendment by rejecting a custom plate bearing the Confederate flag, on concern the plate and others like it might offend people.

A decision in that case is expected by the end of June, and perhaps as soon as Tuesday.

Friday’s decision reversed a November 2011 ruling by U.S. District Judge Neal McCurn in Syracuse, New York. The lawsuit began in 2004, when the DMV imposed a still-standing moratorium on new custom plate applications. McCurn died in September.

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