CARSON CITY, Nev. – A Las Vegas man won a courtroom battle Wednesday with the Nevada Department of Motor Vehicles over his "HOE" license plate, which the agency refused to renew on grounds that he was using a slang reference to prostitutes.
The high court said the DMV based its refusal of William Junge's plate on definitions found in the Web-based Urban Dictionary, which includes user contributions. It ruled that the contributed definitions "do not always reflect generally accepted definitions for words."
Junge, whose suit was represented by the American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada, said he had the personalized plate from 1999 to 2006, when the DMV refused to let him renew it.
He said he wanted "TAHOE" for the plate on his 1999 Chevy Tahoe, but it wasn't available so he settled for "HOE." For his plate background, he picked one with a Lake Tahoe panorama.
The high court said Urban Dictionary "allows, if not encourages, users to invent new words or attribute new, not generally accepted meanings to existing words."
But "a reasonable mind would not accept the Urban Dictionary entries alone as adequate to support a conclusion that the word 'HOE' is offensive or inappropriate," the justices wrote.
Rebecca Gasca of the ACLU of Nevada said the action by a DMV supervisor to block Junge from renewing his license plate violated constitutional First Amendment protections. Junge had dropped out of the litigation but the ACLU continued the fight.
"While the Urban Dictionary might be an entertaining Web site about the English language, the court acknowledged it's not a reliable source for DMV decision-making about whether a license plate is vulgar," Gasca said.
In written briefs submitted to the state Supreme Court, an attorney for the DMV argued there was no First Amendment violation and the state has a reasonable basis for regulating vanity plates on vehicles. It also said the term "hoe" was derogatory toward women.