The U.S. Supreme Court has heard arguments on a free speech case on whether Texas was wrong in rejecting a specialty vehicle license plate displaying the Confederate flag – to some an emblem of Southern pride and to others a symbol of racism.
The Court has to answer two free speech related questions in Walker v. Texas Division, Sons of Confederate Veterans, Inc.
1) Whether the messages and images that appear on state-issued specialty license plates qualify as government speech immune from being viewpoint neutral.
2) Whether Texas engaged in “viewpoint discrimination” by rejecting the Sons of Confederate Veterans license plate/
Or in other words, who, exactly, is doing the “speaking” in the case of a specialty license plate? The State? Or the person who displays the license plate on their vehicle?
What are the limits? The Washington Post gives a run down of the oral argument in the case before the Supreme Court here.
The National Constitution Center describes the two issues in the case and the facts of the case, and I provide some Pro and Con links below the fold:
The Constitution’s First Amendment free speech clause limits government restrictions on private free speech, and it also allows the government to speak for itself. Two recently debated questions are how far can the government go in expressing a viewpoint that isn’t neutral? And do such opinions restrict free speech made by private individuals or groups?
The Texas case came about in 2009, when Texas Sons of Confederate Veterans (or SCV) submitted an application to the state’s specialty license program for a plate design that featured the Confederate battle flag.
The Texas Department of Motor Vehicle Board reviews applications and asks for public comments on prospective plates in the program. There were plenty of comments about the Confederate battle flag design. The Board voted to decline the application, citing a policy that it “may refuse to create a new specialty license plate if the design might be offensive to any member of the public.”
The SCV sued, claiming a violation of its First Amendment free speech rights and a 14th Amendment violation, and that Texas used a government-held viewpoint to discriminate against the SCV. Texas countered with the argument that it had government speech rights and the ability to choose which messages appeared on state-issued license plates.
Pro – the Plates are Private Free Expression
Specialty Plates are Private Speech
Anti – the Plates are Government Expression