U.S. Supreme Court

May Texas reject Confederate flag specialty plate? SCOTUS to decide

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The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear a First Amendment challenge to Texas’ rejection of specialty license plates displaying a logo of the Confederate flag.

The court granted cert on Friday in the appeal by the Sons of Confederate Veterans, report the Los Angeles Times, SCOTUSblog, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal (sub. req.) and the New York Times.

The state says it rejected the plate because many people associate the Confederate flag with hatred and oppression of minorities.

The New Orleans-based 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against Texas in July, saying messages on state-issued specialty plates are private speech and the state engaged in impermissible viewpoint discrimination by rejecting the plates.

Texas says it has granted specialty plates with messages such as “Stop Child Abuse,” “Fight Terrorism” and “Mothers Against Drunk Driving.” If the 5th Circuit ruling is allowed to stand, the state says, it will have to allow license plates that endorse child abuse, terrorism and drunk driving.

The case involves two issues, according to the New York Times. The first is whether the license plates represent speech by government or the car owner. “If they are the government’s speech,” the Times says, “the First Amendment largely drops out of the analysis, as the government is free to say what it likes.”

The second issue is whether Texas engaged in impermissible discrimination based on the speaker’s viewpoint when the state has not issued any license plates portraying the Confederate flag in a bad light.

The case is Walker v. Sons of Confederate Veterans. The cert petition is here (PDF).

A second federal appeals court recently ruled against a state in a license plate battle, finding that North Carolina must offer pro-choice license plates if it issues “Choose Life” plates.

In a prior license plate case, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1977 that New Hampshire couldn’t require a Jehovah’s Witness to display license plates with the state’s motto, “Live Free or Die.”

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