The Confederacy is rising again in Texas. At least in the form of specialty license plates. The Texas division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans has filed a lawsuit in Texas federal court arguing that the Department of Motor Vehicles violated its it’s First Amendment rights by refusing to issue a license plate featuring a Confederate flag. As a point of clarification, vanity plates are plates in which you pick the license plate symbols. Specialty plates are plates the state issues with various organizations. For instance, here in Texas, we now have a Dallas Mavericks specialty plate. The Sons Of Confederate Veterans would be a Specialty Plate. If my license plate read “CUBES”, that would be a vanity plate.
When I think of the Confederate flag I think of rednecks, racism and NASCAR not necessarily in that order. Before you hang me from the nearest Texas Motor Speedway light-pole, I have admittedly not watched many NASCAR races. In the one race I did attend at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, there were many confederate flags draped from RV’s in the parking lot with the occupants engaging in activities that would simply be drunkenly boorish in any other venue but adding in the Confederate flag screamed redneck. I don’t think I am going out on a limb in opning that some of them would not know the Battle Of Fort Sumter from Bunker Hill.
NASCAR aside, this is a case in which the Sons will probably prevail or the DMV will relent and issue the plate before it gets that far. Regardless of the varied meanings the flag embodies and that the state actually owns the plates, it can not engage in viewpoint discrimination. Nine other states have approved Sons Of Confederate Veterans’ specialty plates, several only after being sued. There are other issues that could come in to play such as the fact that the plates are actually the property of the state and therefore constitute a non-public forum or whether the plates constitute goverment speech as compared to private speech. This could change the standard of review more in favor of the state. I however, don’t see those issues affecting the constitutionality of the Sons Of Confederate Veterans plates.
As Jeff Foxworthy would say: “You might be a redneck if…” Having confederate flag plate would certainly make my list. If it does not make yours and you want one in Texas you will have to wait a bit before branding yourself one to the motoring public. Never fear however, you will get to do it. It’s your constitutional right to be a redneck.