10/14/2014Texas Asks US Supreme Court To Rule On License Plates
Confederate flag license plate in Texas brings controversy to the steps of the US Supreme Court.
Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott wants the US Supreme Court to weigh in on the question of whether his state must offer license plates that some organizations consider to be offensive. In a filing to the Supreme Court last week, the Sons of Confederate Veterans urged justices to uphold the US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit's July ruling that gave the green light to confederate specialty license plates in the Lone Star State.
In 2009, the Texas Division Sons of Confederate Veterans applied to have confederate plates printed that are identical to those currently available in Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia. A Texas Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) board quickly rejected the application.
"The board has considered the information and finds it necessary to deny this plate design application, specifically the confederate flag portion of the design, because public comments have shown that many members of the general public find the design offensive, and because such comments are reasonable," the DMV wrote in its decision. "The board finds that a significant portion of the public associate the confederate flag with organizations advocating expressions of hate directed toward people or groups that is demeaning to those people or groups."
The Sons of Confederate Veterans sued, calling the decision arbitrary and an imposition on its free speech rights. The Fifth Circuit and four other circuits agreed, ruling that the government must remain "viewpoint neutral" in issuing license plates. The Sixth Circuit split from its colleagues and maintained that the state can issue tickets without having to offer plates displaying an opposing view. Abbott argued that some form of discriminating is necessary, or else Texas would have to balance its "Fight Terrorism" plate by offering a plate to terrorist organizations.
"Many other specialty plates in Texas undeniably promote certain viewpoints at the expense of others, such as 'Stop Child Abuse,' 'Mothers Against Drunk Driving,' 'Animal Friendly,' and 'Insure Texas Kids,'" Abbott wrote. "The majority opinion did not explain how its 'no viewpoint discrimination' rule could allow Texas to continue issuing these specialty plates without also offering plates that promote child abuse, drunk driving, animal cruelty, and messages opposing the State Children's Health Insurance Program."
Texas argues that since it has never issued a plate for or against the confederacy, it has not involved itself in the Civil War and it, therefore, cannot be said to have discriminated. Abbott also predicted that there would be a free-for-all with its plates if the precedent is allowed to stand.
"After this ruling, it is not apparent how the state could exclude profanity, sacrilege, or overt racism from its specialty license plates," Abbott wrote. "And the court of appeals made no effort to cabin the scope of its holding or define the extent of its reach."
The Supreme Court has yet to decide whether it will take up the case.