Charles ROBERSON, Secretary, Webb Dept. of Motor Vehicles, Petitioner Represented by Kevin Combest and Cary Aronovitz,
PLANNED PARENTHOOD OF WEBB, INC., Respondent Represented by Robert Davis and Tara Nelson. In The Supreme Court Of The United States Of America, Fall Term, 2008
Petitioner, Charles Roberson, Secretary of the Webb Development of Motor Vehicles (DMV), enforces and administers the State of Webb’s statute authorizing a specialty license plate with the words “Choose Life.” The State of Webb does not have a corresponding statute allowing for a specialty license plate with the words “Pro-Choice.” Planned Parenthood of Webb, Inc. (PPW) fi led a civil action in federal district court against the DMV arguing that the statute authorizing the Choose Life license plate amounts to viewpoint discrimination by the State of Webb in violation of the First Amendment. In response, the DMV argued that the federal district court was deprived of subject matter jurisdiction to hear the case by operation of the Tax Injunction Act (TIA). Alternatively, the DMV argued that the Choose Life license plate statute need not be neutral because any message on a stateissued license plate constitutes government speech. The district court held in favor of PPW by fi nding that the TIA did not deprive the district court of subject matter jurisdiction and that the statute authorizing the Choose Life license plate in the state of Webb violates the First Amendment. The DMV appealed. The United States Court of Appeals for the Thirteenth Circuit affirmed the district court’s decision and reasoned that because motorists who receive a Choose Life license plate voluntarily pay a $25 charge, the charge imposed does not constitute a tax, nor does the charge constitute a regulatory fee; rather it is a simple purchase price. Consequently, the TIA did not preclude the district court from exercising federal subject matter jurisdiction. The circuit court further reasoned that the license plate statute violates the First Amendment because the license plate message constitutes private speech and the statute authorizing only the “Choose Life” message impermissibly discriminates against other viewpoints, mainly the “Pro-Choice” view. The Supreme Court granted the DMV’s petition for certiorari. Before the Supreme Court are two issues: 1) whether the charge imposed by the Choose Life license plate statute is a tax within the meaning of the TIA and; 2) if not, whether the “Choose Life” message constitutes private speech and viewpoint discrimination in violation of the First Amendment.