Can NJ ban anti-abortion license plates?

Join two hot-button issues — abortion and specialty license plates — and you have a nationwide dilemma that a New Jersey appeals court is considering.

Children First Foundation Inc. accuses New Jersey motor vehicles officials of “viewpoint discrimination” for rejecting the slogan “Choose Life” as too controversial for state plates.

Nonprofit groups can get their logos on specialty plates, but Children First’s says it was singled out because of its views.

Nearly 20 states issue “Choose Life” plates, and others are pursuing them in court or before state agencies.

Recently, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco ordered Arizona to begin issuing “Choose Life” plates. However, the 4th Circuit in Richmond, Va., ruled that South Carolina had no right to authorize the tags without also issuing those bearing an abortion-rights message.

The U.S. Supreme Court has steered clear of the fray.

The New Jersey appeal is of a June 2008 decision by Judge Joel Pisano that license plates were never meant to be a public forum and that New Jersey officials had the power to declare that specialty plates cannot advocate any political message.

“New Jersey has a legitimate interest in communicating that it does not approve or disapprove of any particular political cause, belief, or message,” Pisano wrote.

“[T]he purpose of license plates is for vehicle identification,” Pisano ruled.

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