ACLU Sues Ohio Over Vanity Plates Policy, Saying "Vague Standards" for Approval Violate the First Amendment

Affiliate: ACLU of Ohio
December 20, 2001 12:00 am

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COLUMBUS, OH–The American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio today filed a lawsuit in United States District Court in Columbus alleging that the Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicle’s policy for approving drivers’ applications for vanity plates violates the First Amendment.

The lawsuit is being brought on behalf of a Niles man who was denied the license plate “”RDRAGE,”” which is the name of his car.

“”The Supreme Court has held repeatedly that the government cannot give its officials unlimited discretion to censor speech,” said Ray Vasvari, Legal Director of the ACLU of Ohio. “”By employing vague standards for denying vanity plates, that is precisely what the motor vehicles bureau has done. What message will or will not be approved is anybody’s guess.””

The state maintains guidelines for approving vanity plate applications. The guidelines are applied by a panel of seven individuals who determine which applications should be granted. Specifically, the guidelines give the committee discretion to deny any applications that in its opinion are “”ethnic or controversial in origin or character or are judged offensive, disparaging or socially insensitive.””

The ACLU lawsuit names Ohio BMV Registrar Franklin Caltrider and Lt. Governor Maureen O’Connor as defendants and asks the court to declare the guidelines unconstitutional and to enjoin their use.

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