A coalition of anti-abortion groups wants a federal judge to order the state to produce special license plates with the message "choose life."
The Arizona Life Coalition charges in legal papers filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Phoenix that a state commission that reviews requests for special plates acted illegally in rejecting its application.
The lawsuit asks Judge Paul Rosenblatt to order the members of the Arizona License Plate Commission to approve the plate.
But Kris Mayes, spokeswoman for Gov. Janet Napolitano, defended the commission’s decision, which was made without public comment last week. Mayes said it is inappropriate to have contentious messages on state license plates.
State law allows Arizona lawmakers to authorize special plates, as they have done for groups such as the three universities, environmental education and a fund to halt child abuse.
Legislators also set up a separate commission to review requests from nonprofit agencies. That panel has approved eight special plates for groups as diverse as firefighters to future farmers.
In both cases the plates do more than spread a message. They raise money, with $17 of the extra $25 fee for the plates going to the sponsoring group.
Gary Paisley, chairman of the coalition, said its first request was submitted last year. The proposed design had a drawing of the faces of two children on the left side of the plate and the phrase "choose life" along the bottom — where regular plates now proclaim "The Grand Canyon State."
That request was rejected.
The lawsuit says one commissioner complained the plate would conflict with public policy; another said approving the plate would open the door to other groups demanding similar plates.
A new application was rejected Aug. 28 without comment after commission members met behind closed doors with their attorney.
The lawsuit, filed by two Scottsdale law firms, charges that the commissioners illegally infringed on the First Amendment rights of the coalition based solely on the message.
"The government may not discriminate based upon the viewpoint expressed by the speaker," said attorney Benjamin Bull.
Mayes noted the law allows commissioners to restrict special plates to organizations that serve the community.
The coalition includes the Center for Arizona Policy, Arizona Right to Life, the Crisis Pregnancy Center of Arizona and other organizations.
The governor’s office directly or indirectly appoints all the members of the