A federal court ruled that the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles could not prohibit the sale of specialty license plates featuring an image of the Confederate flag.
The U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled 2-1 on Monday that the Texas department had violated the 1st Amendment rights of members of the Sons of Confederate Veterans group by rejecting their application for the specialty plates.
In the majority opinion, the court found that the board of the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles had “engaged in impermissible viewpoint discrimination” when it rejected the license plates in 2011.
The decision overturns a decision in April by U.S. District Judge Sam Sparks, who ruled that the state had the right to reject the plates.
The Texas attorney general’s office, which represented the department, told the Los Angeles Times on Tuesday that it would appeal the decision.
The proposed license plates feature the Sons of Confederate Veterans logo — a Confederate battle flag framed on all four sides by the words “Sons of Confederate Veterans 1896.” The plate would also have a faint image of the Confederate flag in the background and an outline of the state of Texas in the top right corner.
“By rejecting the plate because it was offensive, the board discriminated against Texas SCV’s view that the Confederate flag is a symbol of sacrifice, independence, and Southern heritage," Judges Edward Prado and Jennifer Elrod said.
The judges wrote that they “understand that some members of the public find the Confederate flag offensive,” but “that does not justify the board’s decision.” They also referred to several other specialty veterans license plates that Texas offers.
“This is exactly what the 1st Amendment was designed to protect against,” they said.
Marshall Davis, the spokesman of the Texas Division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, told the Los Angeles Times that he thinks the state's appeal is a "waste of taxpayer money."
"It seems like sour grapes to go back to the same court," Davis said. "All we're trying to do is try to have a specialty plate to honor our veterans."
Gary Bledsoe, president of the NAACP Texas State Conference, said in a statement that the decision marked a “sad day for African Americans and others victimized by hate groups in this state.”
“It marginalizes American citizens and permits people to remind us daily that we were slaves and the ancestors of the plate bearers owned our ancestors,” Bledsoe said.
Nine other states currently have license plates containing images of the Confederate flag, all designed by the Sons of Confederate Veterans. In seven of these, the Tennessee-based group had to sue and win for the right to sell the plates, according to Davis. The group also has pending litigation about the license plates in Florida.
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