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Confederate Flag License Plates a No-Go in TX

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By Andrew Chow, Esq. on November 14, 2011 7:53 AM

A campaign to create Confederate flag license plates in Texas is history.

The state's Department of Motor Vehicles Board last week rejected a proposal to produce special Texas license plates with a group's Confederate flag logo.

The Sons of Confederate Veterans pushed for the plates, citing Confederate pride and the need to honor Civil War sacrifices.

Opponents -- including Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who is running for president -- felt the plates were divisive, and that the rebel flag could evoke racism.

The DMV board -- all Perry appointees -- rejected the proposed plates, 8-0. Board members cited state law, which empowers them to reject any design that may be offensive.

The Sons of Confederate Veterans is threatening to sue. They've been successful before, convincing courts in Virginia, Maryland, and North Carolina to allow Confederate flag license plates. Another lawsuit is pending in Florida.

Legal challenges to specialty plates usually focus on the First Amendment.

Government lawyers have argued that license plates, issued by states for identification and registration purposes, are a form of government speech. Thus, states should be allowed to control the messages displayed on specialty plates.

But some federal courts have held that specialty license plates are more properly considered to be private speech, because they reflect the voice of the vehicle's owner.

Either way, courts have held that a state's specialty license plate program cannot discriminate based on viewpoint.

That's the reason a federal judge just ruled against New York's DMV for refusing to offer a "Choose Life" license plate in its lineup.

It's not clear if the Sons of Confederate Veterans will follow through on its lawsuit threat in Texas. Until it does, motorists there still have plenty of other routes to express themselves on license plates. There are more than 270 specialty designs to choose from.

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