License Plate Battle Could Give Confederacy Supporters A Long-Awaited Win

Texas Department Of Motor Vehicles
Talk about a flashback.

I remember covering this when the case first came up four years ago. They did promise to fight till the end if need be, so I guess they’ve stuck to their word. Talking about the Sons of Confederate Veterans, who claim the state of Texas has wronged them by denying their quest to create a specialty car license plate. That plate would feature the Confederate battle flag, that star-strewn X most folks would readily identify as the Dixie flag.

Texas has approved hundreds of such specialty plates over the years, some with more fanfare than others but usually without a huge deal of controversy. Certainly not a drawn-out legal fight going all the way up to the nation’s highest court. Yet that’s precisely what has happened with the Confederate plate deal.

Texas denied the Sons’ petition, saying many people find the Confederate flag as a highly offensive symbol — often linked to racism and bigotry. The group, which sees itself as a group of history buffs merely trying to highlight their cultural heritage and not push racist beliefs, had none of it. They vowed to fight what they deemed as an unjust decision, and that they did.

As the Sons see it, they deserve their plate as much as any other group. Bottom line, according to their line of argument, it’s a matter of freedom of speech and the state of Texas is in no position to impose a random exception to the First Amendment.

So: Deny offensive material or allow freedom of speech?

That’s what the Supreme Court in a nutshell is looking at in taking up this case. The court heard arguments this week. And, curiously enough, judges’ questioning seemed to indicate that they could be poised to reverse their previous standing that the First Amendment doesn’t apply to decisions made by states. That would mean that if Texas found the Confederate plates offensive, that’d be end of it.

But, again, the court now seems to be seeing the controversy in a much more nuanced way, as reported in SCOTUSblog. One after the other, judges peppered Texas Solicitor General Scott Keller with scenarios putting into question how the state’s decision on the case had a hard time avoiding infringing on First Amendment grounds.

So, is the court apparently ready to pull a U-turn and give the case to the Sons?

After hearing the arguments from both sides, “the Court was left with a very challenging task of deciding what constitutional regime should be put in place to monitor the potential censorship of the messages that roll down Texas’s highways,” SCOTUSblog reported.

Indeed. With hundreds and hundreds such specialty plates across the country, and with the ever-thorny issue of how far the First Amendment can be stretched, the judges’ ruling — expected in June — will have widespread implications.

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