CLEVELAND – The ACLU of Ohio Foundation announced today that it filed suit against the State of Ohio for its plan to produce “choose life” license plates. The ACLU said they filed the complaint with the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio in Cleveland contending that the State’s plan amounts to viewpoint discrimination and a violation of the First Amendment.
In late 2004, the Ohio General Assembly sent a bill creating “choose life” license plates to the governor. Governor Taft signed the bill into law on February 15, 2005.
In the complaint, the ACLU says that the state unconstitutionally engaged in viewpoint discrimination because it created a limited public forum and offered the plates to groups representing only one side of the highly charged political debate. Courts in South Carolina and Tennessee have found similar license plate plans to be unconstitutional. The U.S. Supreme Court has declined to hear arguments on the South Carolina case.
“This is a case about fundamental fairness,” said Carrie Davis, ACLU of Ohio staff attorney. “The State of Ohio cannot open a public forum to one side of a debate without allowing the same access to all other sides.”
The plaintiff, NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio, followed statutory procedure and collected over 1,000 signatures on a petition that called for the General Assembly to create a countering “pro-choice” plate. The Speaker of the Ohio House of Representatives refused to recognize the amendment offered by NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio.
“The Courts have been consistent on this question,” ACLU Volunteer Attorney Jessie Hill who is also an Assistant Professor at Case School of Law. “Just because the people in power favor a certain viewpoint, it does not mean that they can erase the First Amendment.”
The nonprofit, nonpartisan ACLU of Ohio has offices in Cleveland and Cincinnati and community and campus chapters located throughout the state. Due to a recent increase in membership, there are now more than 21,000 ACLU members and supporters in Ohio and more than 400,000 nationwide.