By Special Report College Associate Ford Fischer
Are the images on your license plate private speech or government speech?
While most would agree that a car owner could use whatever bumper stickers they want, custom plate designs have proven controversial.
Texas, which produces over 400 different plates including “Don’t Tread on Me” and other political messages, has denied the Sons of Confederate Veterans group from placing a confederate flag on their government-issued license plates.
The issue is now before the Supreme Court, where the DMV is arguing "a significant portion of the public associate the Confederate flag with organizations advocating expressions of hate directed toward people or groups that is [sic] demeaning to those people or groups."
Representing the state, Texas Solicitor General Scott A. Keller argues that “The First Amendment does not mean that a motorist can compel any government to place its imprimatur on the Confederate battle flag." The premise of their argument is that the first amendment would be violated by forcing the government to print offensive speech.
Ginsberg pointed out that a burger company has an approved license plate. “Is it government speech to say 'Mighty Fine Burgers' to advertise a product?"
Alito and Kagan seemed to express similar views, noting that government billboards do not give the state discretion to choose what organizations are qualified to use it. The plates’ designs don’t represent government approval or endorsement since they merely exist as a revenue enhancer.
Justice Stephen Breyer, the only member seemingly sympathizing with the DMV, had a hard time finding legal grounding for them.
"I just think you have to have some kind of legitimate reason," Breyer said. "It doesn't have to be much. It could be just a little."
The court is expected to make a decision in late June.