The Texas Plates Case Drives to the Court

The case of Walker v. Texas Division, Sons of Confederate Veterans, Inc. is in front of the Supreme Court of the United States [stories here, here, and here].  You can see the filings here.  There is a recap of the oral arguments and analysis here.

At issue is whether Texas should have to issue specialty license plates with the logo of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, which contains a confederate battle flag, on them.

The crux on which the case turns is freedom of speech, but whose speech?  Are messages on license plates manufactured and issued by the state government speech or private speech?  If they are government speech, does the government have the right to not put out a message or does it have to put out any message demanded?  If they are private speech, does the government have the right to restrict those messages?

Some of my blogging colleagues have weighed in.  Andy Hall believes the SCV will win the case.  Kevin Levin has come out in favor of the SCV’s position in this case.  Brooks Simpson maintains an approximate position of amused neutrality, though if I had to guess, I’d say he’s leaning toward the SCV’s side.  I predict Brooks will find the various reactions … wait for it … predictable.  🙂

Personally, I’m neutral on the outcome.  Whichever way the court rules is fine by me.  If they rule that license plates are government speech and the government has the right to determine what it will and will not say, fine.  People who want to advertise their SCV membership on their vehicles can buy bumper stickers.  If they rule that license plates are private speech and the government has to allow the message, fine. Opponents can design their own specialty plates.  I have no problem with individuals who wish to display the confederate flag on their own property, including their vehicle.

The case will have reverberations beyond whether the confederate battle flag can be displayed next to a car’s exhaust pipe.  It will affect other specialty plates, and it will also affect other ways in which government funds and facilities are used to promulgate messages.  I find that a far more compelling reason to be concerned about the outcome.

If the SCV loses, look for movements to get rid of SCV specialty tags in other states, probably starting with Virginia and Maryland.  If the SCV wins, look for heritage instead of history types to misrepresent it.  It’s what they do.

Do you have a position on this case?


  1. In other words, we agree. 🙂 I am neutral as to the outcome, because I think vanity plates open this door. But I do like the embrace of the concept of “offensive speech” by some people.

    1. Pretty much, though I think you’re taking more of a humorous stance than I am. 🙂

  2. Jimmy Dick · · Reply

    I wonder whether they can insert words that racist symbols cannot be used on the plates because the use of the symbol out of its natural historical context is meant to be racist and to inspire hate crimes as a result.

    I’m sure the current make up of the SCOTUS would ignore any studies showing the racism involved with non-historical use of the CBF leads to hate crimes. You know very well that the heritage groups ignore that point.

    1. I don’t think that would pass constitutional muster with most courts, Jimmy. When repugnant speech is protected, all speech is protected.

      1. Jimmy Dick · · Reply

        On the grounds of freedom of speech alone, sure. However, when we explore the reason behind the use of such as symbol we find it to be employed in such as way as to cause harm to certain people and to encourage acts of violence against certain people. There is no absolute 100% freedom of speech. I cannot employ words to cause you financial harm or perjure myself in court. There are limits to what can be said.

        1. And it’s up to the state to prove that harm would come from the license plates. And that doesn’t involve speculations, but actual proof. There are currently nine states that allow the SCV license plates. Thus far I’ve heard of no hate crimes resulting from them.

          1. Jimmy Dick · ·

   Al, the CBF is used as a symbol of groups that commit hate crimes. You know this. By allowing the SCV to use that symbol of racism on a license plate, the state of Texas via the SCOTUS ruling if it decides it is a matter of freedom of speech will be allowing hate speech to exist legally with government protection.

            Now while I deplore infringing on freedom of speech, it is not an unlimited right. There are limitations to it. What needs to be brought up is what those limits are and I do not think that is being done.

            Does this involve freedom of speech? Yes.

            Should states ditch the vanity plates if SCOTUS rules for the CBF on plates? Yes.

            You can argue against it if you want to and I expect that you will and should. There is a fine line here and I can easily see where the plate gets allowed. However, I have a real problem with the use of the symbol out of context. You allow that plate and the swastika plate is next. The same ruling will apply to it.

          2. Jimmy, there’s no doubt the confederate battle flag, or more accurately the naval ensign, has been used by hate groups as a symbol. But in order for the state to have a compelling interest to suppress the symbol, it has to show there will be harm from allowing it. Thus far, there’s no objective evidence of harm caused by these vanity plates in any of the nine states which already allow them. I’ve also seen no evidence of the swastika appearing on license plates in any of those nine states.

  3. Rosemary · · Reply

    great info! thnx!

  4. rcocean · · Reply

    I’m a little puzzled as to how a licence plate can commit a hate crime but anything’s possible.

    1. The point was not that a license plate can commit a hate crime, but that the battle flag imagery has been used to incite and support hate crimes.

  5. […] written on this case. It turns out that I have not, as I learned via Twitter. Other bloggers have weighed in on the subject. I don’t feel that I have a great deal to add, but the issue is worth […]

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