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Can I Put Whatever I Want on My License Plate?

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By Christopher Coble, Esq. on March 27, 2015 1:45 PM

With the Supreme Court trying to decide whether Texas has to allow a Confederate flag on some of its license plates, it got us to wondering -- what exactly can we put on our license plates?

After all, we're paying for the plate, and it's going on our car. Can't we just put anything we want on our license plate? Then again, it's an official plate, issued by the state and with the state flag emblazoned on it. Can the government limit what kinds of things we can say with our license plates?

As it turns out, quite a few cases have popped up recently regarding free speech on the open road ...

AOKPL8S

First, let's see if we can get a handle on what has and hasn't been allowed on license plates. States have allowed "0INK," "COPSLIE," "ATHE1ST," and "GAYPWR." Not so kosher? "8THEIST," "H8SPCH," and "GAYGUY." OK, that really doesn't help clarify things.

And it doesn't help matters that the state that allowed "ATHE1ST," New Jersey, was sued after later rejecting "8THE1ST." Or that Georgia maintains list of over 10,000 banned vanity license plates. Or that Indiana's Bureau of Motor Vehicles seems to approve or deny vanity plates at random:

The DMV denied a personalized license plate request for "HATER" but approved one that said "HATERS."

It also denied "SXY" but approved "BIGGSXY." "FOX LIES" was rejected, but "FOX NEWS" was given a thumbs-up. "CNCR SUX" was a no-no, but "WNTR SUX" was A-OK.

So whether you'll get your plate approved may just come down to the state, day, or clerk with whom you file your plate application. (You probably want to avoid the ever popular "DMV SUX" though.)

GR8COURT

With all this disagreement, you'd think the highest court in the land might have something to say on the matter. Not quite.

Way back in 1977, the Supreme Court decided that license plates are private speech. But that case only dealt with whether New Hampshire could force drivers to display the state's "Live Free or Die" motto on their license plates. And the Court has refused to hear a license plate case since, until the Texas case this term.

The term ends in June, so we may have to wait until then to get a definitive word on whether your "OMFGP1GS" plate will fly. (We don't recommend it.)

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