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'Human' Sues Over 'COPSLIE' License Plate Denial

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By Brett Snider, Esq. on November 08, 2013 10:08 AM

A legal spat over a "COPSLIE" license plate may end in victory for one car owner who's legally changed his name to "human."

Human, of New Hampshire, is an unemployed accountant formerly known as David Montenegro, Boston's WBZ-TV reports. He argued before New Hampshire's highest court against a DMV regulation which prohibits vanity license plates that "a reasonable person would find offensive to good taste."

What are the legal arguments for and against "COPSLIE"?

Human Takes On the State

In New Hampshire's Supreme Court on Thursday, human (which he spells with a lowercase "h") and representatives for the state argued over the legal future of "good taste" on license plates, reports The Associated Press. Justice Carol Ann Conboy pressed on the issue of "[w]hat is good taste," with Chief Justice Linda Dalianis inquiring, "If a person at DMV agrees with the sentiment, he gets the plate?"

Human told the court that the license plate sums up how he feels about his encounters with police. He's been arrested for attempted jaywalking and for protesting police misconduct, WBZ-TV reports.

The government has many areas in which it can legitimately restrict free speech, and perhaps "COPSLIE" is a sentiment that falls within the government's interest to constitutionally regulate.

However, attorneys for the New Hampshire Civil Liberties Union -- who joined human's case -- argue that such a subjective law that relies on "good taste" is unconstitutionally vague, reports the AP. According to WBZ, Justice Conboy seemed inclined to agree, stating "good taste is inherently subjective."

Other State License Plate Decisions

Looking to other states, New Jersey changed its mind after a clerk denied one driver's "ATHE1ST" plate, suggesting that his expression of his religious beliefs were not in violation of the state's ban on "offensive" plates. On the flip side, the Garden State has successfully banned other license plates, like one woman's "BIOCH" plate which was deemed profane.

In Georgia, another driver was successful in settling with the state over a "GAYPWR" license plate that originally made the state's banned-tag list.

"COPSLIE" does not present any religious views or identity-based views, nor is it facially profane. But New Hampshire Senior Assistant Attorney General Richard Head argued before the high court that the plate accuses police officers of moral turpitude.

The New Hampshire Supreme Court will need to balance this concern against the large discretion granted to DMV employees to deny license plate requests based on something as amorphous as good taste.

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