August 27, 2015

Indiana Supreme Court To Decide Future of Personalized License Plates

Greenfield Police Officer Rodney Vawter, with approval from the Fraternal Order of Police, had a license plate that read “0INK.”  The Bureau of Motor Vehicles revoked it, calling it inappropriate. - file photo

Greenfield Police Officer Rodney Vawter, with approval from the Fraternal Order of Police, had a license plate that read “0INK.” The Bureau of Motor Vehicles revoked it, calling it inappropriate.

file photo

INDIANAPOLIS -- The Indiana Supreme Court will consider the future of Indiana’s personalized license plates after the state and the ACLU each had their say over a lawsuit challenging the program.  

Greenfield Police Officer Rodney Vawter, with approval from the Fraternal Order of Police, had a license plate that read “0INK.”  The Bureau of Motor Vehicles revoked it, calling it inappropriate.  The ACLU of Indiana, on behalf of Vawter, sued the BMV, saying its policy violates free speech rights.  But Indiana Solicitor General Thomas Fisher says a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision ruled that Texas’ specialty plates constituted government speech; as a result, Fisher says, the government should have final authority over what goes on its plates.

“Language changes; connotations change," Fisher said. "The BMV needs to be able to take into account those things that become offensive to the citizenry and to be able to decide what messages, in any particular time frame, it wants to affiliate with.”

But ACLU Indiana legal director Ken Falk says the BMV’s standard for what is and isn’t offensive is too vague.  He cites, for example, the BMV denying a plate saying “HATER” but approving one that read “HATERS.”  “WNTR SUX” was approved; “CNCR SUX” was not.

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