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COPSLIE License Plate Nixing by DMV Reversed by NH High Court

By Michael Mullins   |   Thursday, 08 May 2014 10:24 AM

A "COPSLIE" license plate has been given the green light in New Hampshire, where on Wednesday the state's top court struck down the DMV's objection to the vanity plate, which it considered to be in violation of the agency's "good taste" standard.

David Montenegro, whose legal name is "human," sued the state’s Division of Motor Vehicles for refusing to issue him the plate, The Los Angeles Times reported. Instead, Montenegro was issued the license plate "GR8GOVT," which was one of his backup choices.

In its 5-0 decision the New Hampshire Supreme Court found that the DMV's decision to not issue the plate was in violation of the state constitution's free speech clause.

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"Because the 'offensive to good taste' standard is not susceptible of objective definition, the restriction grants DMV officials the power to deny a proposed vanity registration plate because it offends particular officials’ subjective idea of what is 'good taste,'" the court wrote.

In its ruling, the New Hampshire Supreme Court's cited a Webster’s Dictionary definition which opened the doors to several interpretations of the regulation.

"One such interpretation could be that no vanity registration plates are allowed that are 'insulting to the standard of morality or virtue of individual preference,'" the court wrote. "This reading alone demonstrates the arbitrariness of determining whether a vanity registration plate is 'offensive to good taste.'"

In its unsuccessful defense of the DMV's rejection of the plate, the New Hampshire Attorney General’s office, which represented the DMV, claimed the department of motor vehicles was not restricting free speech, but rather attempting set a standard by which acceptable speech was permitted on government property.

Montenegro was represented by the New Hampshire Civil Liberties Union, which celebrated the ruling as a free speech victory.

"It reaffirmed that the basic principle that a law that delegates to government officials the power to accept or deny speech based on their own views is unconstitutional," Gilles Bissonnette, an NHCLU staff attorney told the Los Angeles Times.

"I don’t think most people fight for their free speech rights, so 'human' should be commended for bringing this to the Supreme Court," Bissonnette added.

According to The Los Angeles Times, the New Hampshire Attorney General’s office says it will be reviewing the court's decision.

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