There have to be cheaper ways of teaching civics to our legislators than through the court system. Just this week the North Carolina General Assmbly learned that you actually can't make laws that are unconstitutional. No, not even if you really hate abortion and so do your constituents.
In June, 2011, the North Carolina legislature passed a bill authorizing 80 new vanity plates, including this one.
For $25, citizens of North Carolina could offer friendly advice to other drivers on what to do with their uteruses. The state would keep $10, and $15 would go to the Carolina Pregnancy Care Fellowship, an organization of crisis pregnancy centers. I'm not really down with crisis pregnancy centers (hint: they will tell egregious lies to keep women from choosing an abortion, but do very little to promote maternal health). And the statute's express prohibition on distributing the $15 to "any agency, organization, business or other entity that provides, promotes, counsels or refers to abortion" is pretty appalling. But, it's a free country. People are entitled to express any opinion they like.
Except in North Carolina, if you would like to express your support for a woman's right to choose what to do with her own body. In that case, you are SOL. Although legislators offered six amendments to include license plates that said things like, "Trust Women: Respect Choice," the General Assembly went with no Pro-Choice option when they authorized the Choose Life plates.
This week, a Federal District Court Judge struck down the law for violating the First Amendment right to free speech. In a nutshell, if the governments grants one side a forum to engage in public speech while excluding the opposing position, it has unconstitutionally regulated speech. Which is all well and good, except that the exact same case was litigated in South Carolina in 2004. The illegality of the proposed statute was entirely clear, and yet the General Assembly still passed it.
Did the North Carolina politicians just say, "Hell, we know it won't stick, but let's pass it anyway. Our constituents will think we're doing them a favor, and we'll bleed the liberals of legal fees to enforce the law?" We may never know. However, we do know that the main proponent of the law, Representative Mitch Gillespie cares more about restricting other people's right to free speech than exercising his own. Asked if he'd support a law which allowed "Choose Life" and "Trust Women" plates, he responded, "I’d be willing to sacrifice this before I’d be willing to vote for that. Personally, I couldn’t do it . . . My personal convictions on this are strong."
My personal convictions are also strong. I believe strongly that the State of North Carolina should have to pay the ACLU's legal fees, as South Carolina was forced to do for Planned Parenthood in 2004. But, since this case will probably take another two years to wind its way through the appeals process, I'll give today's $5 to the ACLU of North Carolina. Thanks for fighting the good fight.