Pete Williams, NBC News, June 18, 2015
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Texas cannot be required to allow the Confederate flag on car license plates.
The case dealt with how much control state governments can exert over slogans and messages on vehicle license plates.
In the 5-4 ruling, the court said “just as Texas cannot require (Sons of Confederate Veterans) to convey ‘the state’s ideological message . . . (the Sons of Confederate Veterans) cannot force Texas to include a Confederate battle flag on its specialty license plates.”
The case came from Texas, where a state agency refused five years ago to approve a specialty plate requested by a group called the Sons of Confederate Veterans. The design was to include the group’s logo–a square confederate battle flag surrounded by the words, “Sons of Confederate Veterans 1896.”
After hearing public comments on the proposal, the state motor vehicle authority rejected the request, explaining that “many members of the general public find the design offensive,” and associate the flag “with organizations advocating expressions of hate.”
The Sons of Confederate Veterans sued, and a federal appeals court ruled that license plate messages, other than official mottos such as “Lone Star State,” are free speech and cannot be restricted by the state even if some residents consider the words offensive.
In the Texas case, the appeals court said the legal test is whether a reasonable observer would understand the message to be an expression of government or private speech.
The Texas Governor, Greg Abbott, filed court papers as state attorney general urging the court to rule in favor of the state and against the confederate group.