Rebel recall: Virginians told to turn in Confederate-themed license plates

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Virginia is targeting 1,691 license plates bearing the Confederate battle flag in a statewide recall that will replace the existing tags with new ones without the controversial image.

The Virginian-Pilot reported that it’s unclear how quickly the flag tags will disappear from state highways now that the plates are being recalled and replaced following a federal judge’s ruling Thursday lifting a 2001 injunction that allowed the image.

“We’re working as quickly as possible to get this done,” Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles spokeswoman Brandy Brubaker told the paper.

Vehicle owners with the flag plates will be sent new Sons of Confederate Veterans tags along with a letter of notification informing them that the old plates will become invalid in 30 days.

However, the replacement tag doesn’t exist yet. The DMV plans to come up with a new flag-less plate design in consultation with the veterans group.

Judge Jackson Kiser issued the injunction 14 years ago after the SCV sued the state over the license plate battle flag ban. The group argued the ban violated its First Amendment rights.

Kiser cited a recent Supreme Court ruling in a Texas case that said special license plates represent the state’s speech, and not the driver’s speech. A Texas board had rejected the flag tags over concerns the license plate would offend many Texans. The SCV was also the plaintiff in the Texas case.

The judge lifted the injunction in a ruling from the bench July 31 but Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring waited until the decision was issued in written form before announcing the recall.

Brubaker said the DMV is sending holders of the tags self-addressed envelopes with a request that they mail them back to the state for recycling.

But that many not stop holders from keep the tags, if only as a souvenir.

The DMV spokeswoman acknowledged to the Pilot that the agency can’t force motorists to turn them in.

Debate about Confederate symbols gained new traction after the June 17 mass shooting of nine black worshippers at a church in Charleston, South Carolina, in what police say was an attack motivated by racial hatred. The white man charged in the slayings had posed with a Confederate battle flag in photos posted online before the killings.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.