Friday, June 19, 2015

Supreme Court hands Texas DMV the right to ban Confederate flag license plates

Justice Clarence Thomas provides surprising swing vote ...

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles Board can indeed ban a special license plate that includes an image of the Confederate flag – a somewhat surprising decision that came only after Justice Clarence Thomas sided with the his more liberal colleagues.

The case pitted the state's DMV against the Texas Sons of Confederate Veterans. The DMV denied the plate; the group alleged discrimination because the government agency had approved other specialty plates from other organizations.

Justice Stephen Breyer wrote in his majority opinion the government "would not work" if it didn't maintain the right to make decisions or take positions on issues absent fear of violating the Constitution, the Hill reported.

"How could a state government effectively develop programs designed to encourage and provide vaccinations, if officials also had to voice the perspective of those who oppose this type of immunization?" he asked.

Texas can now ban this plate.
He also added that the government can't force a citizen to adopt its opinions or positions, but still possesses the constitutional authority to adopt a position that "represents its citizens and carries out its duties on their behalf," Breyer wrote.

And letting the Confederate flag be placed on Texas license plates gives the impression the state's "endorsed that message," he said.

Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan joined Breyer – and so did Clarence Thomas, in what many court watchers characterize as a surprise vote.

Justice Samuel Alito, meanwhile, wrote for the diseent that the ruling "establishes a precedent that threatens private speech that the government finds displeasing."

Alito also pointed to the fact that Texas allows more than 350 specialty plates containing messages from the likes of the Knights of Columbus, Dr. Pepper and NASCAR.

"Would you really think that the sentiments reflected in these specialty plates are the views of the State of Texas and not those of the owners of the cars? If a car with a plate that says, 'Rather Be Golfing' passed by at 8:30 a.m. on a Monday morning," Alito wrote, referencing yet another plate that's already approved by the Texas DMV Board, "would you think: 'This is the official policy of the State – better to golf than to work?'"

Alito also said the case is not simply about plates.

"[It] may seem innocuous," he wrote, the Hill reported. "[but the ruling] takes a large and painful bite out of the First Amendment."

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