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Supreme Court: Confederate Flag License Plates Can Be Rejected by States

Image: Supreme Court: Confederate Flag License Plates Can Be Rejected by States
(Texas Department of Motor Vehicles)

By    |   Thursday, 18 Jun 2015 02:35 PM

The Supreme Court ruled in a 5-4 decision this week that Texas' rejection of the image of a Confederate flag on vanity license plates does not violate the First Amendment. 

In the Walker v. Texas Division, Sons of Confederate Veterans, Inc. case, the court considered two main issues: Whether images and messages on state-issued specialty license plates qualify as government speech, or whether Texas practiced viewpoint discrimination by rejecting the Sons of Confederate Veterans’ license plate design, according to SCOTUSblog.

The board of the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles argued that “a significant portion of the public associates the Confederate flag with organizations advocating expressions of hate directed toward people or groups that is demeaning to those people or groups,” The New York Times reported.

Texas’ solicitor general, Scott A. Keller, also argued that the 438 specialty plates available to Texas drivers represent the government’s speech, and thus are entirely immune from First Amendment protection for free speech, according to The Times.

Justice Stephen Breyer, who wrote the court’s majority opinion, said that “states have long used license plates in this country to convey government messages,” which makes a further distinction in assigning speech rights to public institutions or private persons, according to USA Today.

But Justice Samuel Alito, who led the dissent in the opinion, asked, “Would you really think that the sentiments reflected in these specialty plates are the views of the State of Texas and not those of the owners of the cars?” according to USA Today. The dissent also added, “The court's decision passes off private speech as government speech and, in doing so, establishes a precedent that threatens private speech that government finds displeasing.”

None of the justices on either side came to a unilateral agreement for the majority opinion or the dissenting opinion, however, as the questions of free speech and First Amendment rights and distinctions became murky.

“Indeed, a person who displays a message on a Texas license plate likely intends to convey to the public that the State has endorsed that message,” Breyer wrote, according to The Huffington Post. “If not, the individual could simply display the message in question in larger letters on a bumper sticker right next to the plate.”

“I'm not quite sure why it's government speech,” Chief Justice John Roberts said, according to The Huffington Post. “I mean, they're only doing this to get the money.”

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The Supreme Court ruled in a 5-4 decision this week that Texas' rejection of the image of a Confederate flag on vanity license plates does not violate the First Amendment.
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2015-35-18
Thursday, 18 Jun 2015 02:35 PM
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