ACLU OF NORTH CAROLINA v. TENNYSON, No. 13-1030

Decided: March 10, 2016

The Fourth Circuit reversed and remanded the judgment of the district court with instructions that the district court enter judgment in favor of the state.

The state of North Carolina offers a specialty license plate program that offers a “Choose Life” plate. The state refuses, however, to offer a pro-choice license plate. Several organizations brought a lawsuit against the state of North Carolina alleging that the state violated the First and Fourteenth Amendments with this program. The district court found for the plaintiffs and issued an injunction prohibiting the state from issuing “Choose Life” plates without offering a pro-choice plate. The state appealed the decision of the district court to the Fourth Circuit arguing that the program was government speech and therefore it was permissible for it to engage in viewpoint discrimination when administering the plate program. The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court holding that the First Amendment was violated. The state appealed to the United State Supreme Court which vacated the decision of the Fourth Circuit and remanded the case for reconsideration in light of a new decision in a Texas case, Walker v. Texas Div., Sons of Confederate Veterans, Inc., 135 S. Ct. 2239 (2015), that addressed the same issue.

In Walker, a Texas state license program was determined by the Supreme Court to be government speech. The Fourth Circuit determined that the license program in this case is indistinguishable from the program in Walker. Therefore, the Court determined that the state of North Carolina is free to reject license plate designs that convey messages with which it disagrees.

Accordingly, the judgment of the district court is reversed and remanded with instructions.

Full Opinion

Michael W. Rabb

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