License plates currently a major battlefield for free speech
Because a certain crowd wants license plates that say “save the forest” but not “choose life.”
SPECIALTY license plates — which bear the logo of a college or a sports team, or a slogan like “Save Our Seas” or “Stop Child Abuse” — bring in lots of money for state governments, as well as the schools, nonprofit groups, professional organizations and other entities that sponsor them. But these vehicular tags have also become a new frontier in debates over freedom of speech.
The United States Supreme Court is hearing a lawsuit by the Sons of Confederate Veterans. It wants Texas to issue a specialty plate showing the Confederate battle flag, which a state panel rejected. The group argues that if Texas allows plates that express some opinions, it also must allow the battle flag, even if the symbol offends many people. Anything less, the group says, amounts to discrimination against its viewpoint, in violation of the First Amendment.
A similar case from North Carolina might also go up to the Supreme Court. In 2011, the State Legislature approved a specialty plate with the slogan“Choose Life.” Those who seek this specialized plate pay $25, $10 of which goes to the state’s highway fund and $15 of which goes to a pregnancy counseling organization. But when the Legislature refused to issue an abortion-rights plate, the American Civil Liberties Union sued.
So, oddly, liberal supporters of abortion rights are allied, on this issue, with the conservative descendants of Confederate veterans. Both argue that license plates are private, not state, messages and are therefore protected.
Naturally, the New York Times goes on to say that the government should be picking and choosing which groups get free speech on their license plates.