In a 5-4 decision, the justices said a state-issued license plate is "government speech," not the private speech of a motorist. For that reason, the state may decide which messages it wants conveyed on license plates.
"When the government speaks, it is not barred by the free speech clause from determining what it says," Justice
The decision reverses rulings from several lower courts which had said that since states had allowed private groups and charities to sponsor specialty plates, the state could not censor some of them based on their message.
In the Texas case, the Sons of Confederate Veterans applied to sponsor a specialty plate that displayed a Confederate battle flag. When a state board refused to issue the plate, the group sued and won in the lower courts based on the claim that the state's decision violated the 1st Amendment.
"The state of Texas has converted ... its specialty plates into little mobile billboards on which motorists can display their own messages," he said. It is "blatant viewpoint discrimination" for officials to reject one group's message as "offensive," he said.
It is not clear what the decision will mean for abortion-related disputes over the "Choose Life" license plates. Some abortion-rights groups have argued that the state with such specialty plates must also issue a plate with a message such as "Respect Choice."
That issue was raised in a North Carolina case that is still pending on appeal before the justices.
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