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First Amendment

Pro se plaintiff wins court victory in bid for ‘COPSLIE’ license plates

Posted May 7, 2014 1:12 PM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss

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A New Hampshire resident formerly known as David Montenegro has won a free-speech victory in his bid to obtain a vanity license plate reading “COPSLIE.”

The New Hampshire Supreme Court on Wednesday ruled (PDF) that a regulation used to deny the plate violated the First Amendment because it is vague and invites discriminatory enforcement. The regulation barred vanity license plates that are offensive to a reasonable person’s good taste.

Montenegro formally changed his name to “human” in 2012, according to Reuters and the Associated Press, which have reports on the decision.

Several Department of Motor Vehicle employees had deemed Montenegro’s initial request for a “COPSLIE” plate in 2010 to be insulting, the opinion says. When he reapplied for “COPSLIE,” he offered alternative choices in order of preference. The DMV instead allowed his second choice, “GR8GOVT.” Montenegro never accepted the second-choice plate and instead accepted standard plates.

The case was filed under the name Montenegro, although the pro se brief (PDF) he authored is attributed to “human.” Lawyer Anthony Galdieri of Nixon Peabody represented the New Hampshire Civil Liberties Union as amicus curiae.

Human told reporters after oral arguments in November that he chose the license plates because police who pulled him over would have to type “COPSLIE” into their computers, creating “the perfect situational irony.”

Hat tip to @MikeScarcella.

Updated May 9 to fix a typographical error.

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