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Court decision makes "Choose Life" tags a state matter

Among the string of decisions of increased sensibility coming out of the U.S. Supreme Court lately concerns a challenge to Louisiana’s specialty license plate, “Choose Life.” Louisiana law permits issuing this tag for a premium, but the state has not done so for years because of legal challenges the Court now has brushed aside.

Foolishly. District Judge Stanwood Duval had ruled the law unconstitutional saying it put the state in the business of promoting private speech. The state argued the end product of a law allowing such plates emanated from the public policy process which the state executed, not from the state itself.

A previous Court decision plus a separate decision from a 5th Circuit Court of Appeals panel said the constitutional question at hand was whether states could have such a program that would produce plates which could advocate a particular issue preference. As such, this was a tax dispute matter internal to the state that could not be entertained in federal court. The full Court agreed on an 8-8 split and the Supreme Court agreed with that court by refusing to hear that case, a non-decision triggered by yet another circuit’s decision that contradicted another’s.

Will opponents finally let it go? Probably not, as they know they are big losers in the court of public opinion (their efforts to create a rhetorically-challenged “Choose Choice” plate, a euphemism for “Choose Death,” was defeated legislatively). The decision instructs opponents to go through the Tax Injunction Act (28 U.S.C. § 1341) which simply means it is a matter for Louisiana jurisprudence under the Louisiana Constitution. They may hope they can find some way to get a handful of judges in the state to abrogate the law.

Proper jurisprudence would not validate their arguments. The federal court ruling that the additional fee for the plates is a tax, even of the voluntary kind, makes the issuance of such plates squarely a political matter, not one that is within the purview of free speech or any other constitutional clauses under Louisiana’s Constitution. That would mean their relief is from convincing the Legislature to pass the “Choose Death” plates, not through the judicial system.

But, who knows with the judiciary in this state? No doubt they’ll try, but if things work out properly, the state will be selling these tags without any legal problems as soon as possible.

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