Indiana Supreme Court Says Cop Can't Have His '01NK' License Plate

from the and-the-government-can-handle-plate-requests-however-the-hell-it-wants dept

Earlier this year, a police officer and the ACLU performed a “strange bedfellows” act in hopes of overturning Indiana’s Bureau of Motor Vehicle’s rejection of the officer’s vanity license plate request. Rodney Vawter, a rare law enforcement officer capable of enjoying a laugh at his own expense (literally/figuratively), applied for a plate reading “01NK.” The BMV gave it to him. Three years later, it changed its mind, claiming the plate was now “offensive.”

Vawter took the BMV to court, claiming the agency’s denial of his plate infringed on his free speech. The BMV countered that it could pretty much do whatever it wanted, right up until a district court judge called its scattershot approval process (‘BIBLE4ME” – OK. “UNHOLY” – rejected, etc.) unconstitutional. The BMV, rather than adjust its process, simply stopped issuing plates until the issue could be fully resolved.

The state’s Supreme Court has delivered the final word on the BMV’s actions. It’s bad news for Vawter, who won’t be getting his “01NK” plate back. (h/t Free Thought Project)

The court found that, while speech is indeed at the center of this case, it’s the government’s speech that’s being regulated, not citizens‘. And the government can regulate its own speech however it wants.

Indiana’s personalized license plates are government speech. The Bureau of Motor Vehicles, therefore, does not violate the First or Fourteenth Amendments in denying an application for a PLP or revoking a previously issued PLP. Furthermore, Due Process Clause protections do not apply because vehicle owners do not have a property interest in their personalized license plates.

In arriving at this conclusion, the court made a number of supporting determinations, some more solid than others. Most curiously, it stated the limited “message” space on a license plate provides a forum too “limited” for protected speech.

Furthermore, the nature of Indiana’s PLPs is not compatible with expressive activity. Because PLPs are small and contain a maximum of eight characters, they cannot realistically promote meaningful discourse, communication, and debate.

(And yet, “Fuck the draft” is only 12 characters [with spaces removed] and was recognized as protected speech by the Supreme Court of the United States. Eight letters isn’t “discourse,” but twelve is?)

It also found that government-issued plates are still government speech, even if individuals obtain plates with their own “messages” on them. While most people recognize the fact that a state agency issues license plates, they associate the messages on vanity plates to be representative of the person driving the car, rather than the entity that printed the plate. The court shrugs this off by saying it’s not its fault if observers jump to the wrong “speech” conclusion.

PLPs do not cease to be government speech simply because some observers may fail to recognize that PLP alphanumeric combinations are government issued and approved speech in every instance. […] The alphanumeric combination, regardless of its content, is government speech specifically identifying a single vehicle.

So, the BMV’s highly-inconsistent approval process is once again “Constitutional,” but only because it’s the government regulating its “own” speech, even if there’s a private citizen’s personal request somewhere in the middle of all the regulation. No “01NK” plate for Officer Vawter and no plates for other members of the public whose requests somehow “offend” the sensibilities of the BMV office drone processing the paperwork.

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Comments on “Indiana Supreme Court Says Cop Can't Have His '01NK' License Plate”

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Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: WTF?

are printers now claiming they own every book they print, and will determine what does/doesnt’ go in it ? ? ?

I would certainly defend the right of a publisher to decide what they do or do not want to publish, even if the material is not written by them. They don’t own the book, but they do own their own presses and should be able to control how they are used.

The speech implications in denying a license plate are very limited. There’s nothing that you can put on a plate that you can’t just put on a bumper sticker, or the plate holder.

I’m baffled that they find “01NK” offensive. But it’s not like they’re suppressing that message in any meaningful way by disallowing it on the plate.

Violynne (profile) says:

Re: If it's the government's speech...

There are already issues with religious plates.

A few years ago, Indiana released its “in god we trust” license plates, and it’s been a problem since.

First: Indiana releases these plates as the default unless the person expressly states otherwise, which is absolute bullshit. It should be the non-verbiage version that’s the default, and those who want the other should be required to ask for it.

Second: as noted by many who applied, any religious personal text plates, which aren’t under this “god”, have been wholly rejected. The reason: it’s considered inflammatory (most likely to their religion).

Third: since when is a fucking government allowed to dictate what religion it pushes for its plates? That’s the big problem, but of course, the ISC said, “Because the state can, now shut the fuck up and pay the country’s highest excise tax on plates.”

This is just another ruling in a long list of other issues run by racist, bible-thumping assholes.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re: Subtle as a sledgehammer

Second: as noted by many who applied, any religious personal text plates, which aren’t under this “god”, have been wholly rejected. The reason: it’s considered inflammatory (most likely to their religion).

‘The state is allowed to shove the preferred religion of those running it down the throats of everyone else, but you’re not allowed to even attempt to do the same with another religion’.

Hypocrisy and double-standards much?

R/O/G/S says:

Re: Re: Government Speech vs 1st Amendment

Sovereign citizens have long contended exactly this.

Philando Castile was murdered by a Catholic/religious cult unspecified cop in Falcon Heights, Minnesota for exactlyvthese sentiments.

In these,strange murders by cops, one might note how Hispanic the cops are lately.


John Cressman (profile) says:

Must have Apple employees

As someone who has been on the receiving end of Apple’s app approval process (or disapproval process) and the arbitrary and inconsistent app approval process.

Sounds like the same BS – depending on who you get, your app may or may not get approved or in this case, your license plate may or may not get approved.

I think these things are more easily accepted if there are some hard and fast standards rather than just off the cuff decisions based on the reviewers personal experiences, beliefs and “feelings that day”.

R/O/G/S says:

compelled speech

The issue is compelled speech, related to free speech because the gubmint acts as an intermediary, compelling it forwards.

Sovereign citizens have long challenged this license plate scheme/scam of the religious, and well -connected, but because they are not (kosher) their claims get rejected.

Philando Castille, who was murdered in cold blood by ADL affiliated cops in Falcon Heights MN was likely one of those.

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