from the this-is-why-the-word-'humorless'-often-precedes-'bureaucrat' dept
Vehicle vanity plates are a form of expression -- albeit one often severely limited by the arbitrary decisions of state agencies. Last year, we covered a man's battle against New Hampshire's Dept. of Motor Vehicles for the right to
be subjected to increased police harassment attach a "COPSLIE" license plate to his car. He won (but probably also lost), in part because his backup vanity plate application -- for a government-hugging "GR8GOVT" -- was approved by the agency.
This put to lie the agency's claim that it only forbade plates that would be "offensive" to a "reasonable person." Many more people would disagree with the sentiment that government is "great" than would find the thought of cops lying "offensive." It didn't help that the agency also pointed out in its rejection paperwork that individual employees found his "COPSLIE" plate insulting -- thereby inserting the agency as a proxy for the average New Hampshirean.
Now, the shoe's on the other foot (to a certain extent...) and the battle is being fought in a different state. First off, it's a cop who's being denied his request for a vanity plate. The common ingredient is a highly-arbitrary rejection process. Here's a very brief summary, from Martha Neil's article for the ABA Journal.
An Indiana cop may be on the verge of regaining his treasured 0INK vanity plate.Vawter, a rare self-effacing law enforcement officer, had the plate for three years before the state suddenly revoked it, claiming it was "offensive." Of course, the state seems to have no idea what is or isn't offensive, and simply rolls dice/throws darts/flips coins when dealing with vanity plate applications, as Tim Evans of the Indy Star pointed out earlier this year.
The state’s top court heard arguments Thursday on a class action pursued by Greenfield police officer Rodney Vawter, with the help of the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana, after his renewal application for the 0INK license plate was denied, the Associated Press reports.
What's the difference between the words HATER and HATERS?The ACLU, which is representing Vawter in his license plate battle, found even more examples of the impossible (and impossibly flexible) "standard" the state's Bureau of Motor Vehicles applies to plate applications.
Nothing other than the letter "s" — unless you ask the Indiana Bureau of Motor Vehicles.
The BMV denied a personalized license plate request for "HATER" but approved one that said "HATERS."
It also denied "SXY" but approved "BIGGSXY." "FOX LIES" was rejected, but "FOX NEWS" was given a thumbs-up. "CNCR SUX" was a no-no, but "WNTR SUX" was A-OK.
Ken Falk, the ACLU's legal director, cited plates the BMV has allowed that also might be deemed offensive, such as "BLK JEW," ''HATE" and "FOXY GMA."It's this sort of thing that led to a county Superior Court judge declaring the BMV's inconsistent policy unconstitutional back in May. Nevertheless, the state's Solicitor General says the BMV retains the right to reject "offensive messages" -- which apparently covers Vawter's joking self-disparagement. It's taking this all the way to the state's Supreme Court. And rather than approve the "UNHOLY" license plate requested by a KISS fan (after approving others like "BIBLE4ME" and "GODTHANKS"), the BMV has simply chosen to stop issuing vanity plates until the Supreme Court makes a final decision.
Quite obviously, Vawter's plate would offend roughly zero people -- certainly far fewer than other plates the agency has issued. The fact that Vawter had the plate for three years before the BMV decided to claw it back only adds to general untrustworthiness of the BMV's slippery approval process. As it stands, the system is obviously (and almost flagrantly) unconstitutional. Hopefully, the state Supreme Court will make a final determination and force the BMV to give Vawter back his in-joke/vanity plate. And hopefully this determination will curb the number of rejections handed out by overly-sensitive bureaucrats with more power than skin thickness.