On Tuesday, November 24th, US District Judge Jon Tigar ruled against the DMV Director Steve Gordon who denied Californians customized messages on their license plates.
The case was filed in March 2020 by five Californians who were denied permission by the Department of Motor Vehicles to use their customized message on their license plates. One of the messages included the word “QUEER” and another included “OGWOOLF”. They are references to an owner’s shop name and an army veteran’s nickname, but they were deemed “offensive to good taste and decency” by the DMV. Others were refused for plate combinations that were similar to profanity or might be perceived in a sexual or inappropriate way.
The case was heard by the US District Court for the Northern District of California. The federal judge ruled that censorship of personalized license plates is a violation of the freedom of speech under the constitution. He denied the DMV standard that license plate messages cannot contain offensive connotations. Supporters of the ruling agree that these vague bans allow regulators to inject subjectives preferences and undermine the law.
Tigar cited a 2001 Supreme Court Case that ruled that an Asian American rock band was allowed to call themselves “The Slants”. This decided that public speech cannot be limited on the terms that it may offend some people.
The judge did allow the DMV to deny personalized license plates that were profane or contained hate speech. This falls out of the First Amendment protections.
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