New York, NY - Yesterday, the Supreme Court declined to review Hill v. Kemp, a case which centers on a license plate program in Oklahoma which offers specialty license plates with the message "Choose Life," but makes it more difficult for motorists to obtain pro-choice specialty license plates.
Attorneys from the Center for Reproductive Rights and Debevoise & Plimpton, LLP, representing six Oklahoma motorists who wish to purchase pro-choice specialty license plates, argue that this program infringes upon the motorists' First and Fourteenth Amendment rights, and therefore should be decided in federal court. The Supreme Court did not address the merits of those claims, but instead let stand the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit's March 2007 ruling. The appellate court concluded that fees voluntarily paid by Oklahoma motorists for specialty license plates are state taxes. According to federal law, taxpayers must challenge state taxes imposed on them in state court.
The Center issued the following statement in response:
"We had hoped that the plaintiffs would be given an opportunity to pursue their freedom of speech claims in federal court. Pro-choice Oklahoma drivers are being denied the opportunity to express their point of view, while anti-choice drivers are granted the right to spread propaganda that not only supports their political opinions, but is explicitly sanctioned by the state government. State lawmakers could have resolved this issue simply and fairly by making pro-choice plates equally available, but they have so far refused. Together with Debevoise, we will explore all available options to ensure that the important federal claims raised by these Oklahoma residents will be fully heard."
The Center and Debevoise will continue to pursue claims against Oklahoma in federal court for discriminating against certain pro-choice organizations. Oklahoma requires proceeds from "Choose Life" specialty license plate sales be distributed to groups that counsel women to bring their pregnancies to term, but prohibits the money from going to those that use separate funding sources to offer guidance on the full range of pregnancy options, including abortion.
The case was filed in 2004 on behalf of Harold E. Hill, Margaret R. and William F. McCright, John J. McQueen, Rita J. Moskowitz, Barbara Santee, and the Oklahoma Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, Inc. Attorneys for all plaintiffs are: Janet Crepps, senior staff attorney at the Center for Reproductive Rights, Molly Boast and Suzanne Grosso at Debevoise & Plimpton, New York, and Martha Hardwick, the Hardwick Law Office, Tulsa, Oklahoma.