WASHINGTON (CNN) — The Supreme Court ruled Thursday that Texas is allowed to reject a license plate design that featured a confederate battle flag.
In an opinion joined by Justice Clarence Thomas, the majority held that license plate designs are government — and not private — speech, and that the government is allowed to discriminate based upon content when it speaks. Essentially, they are not the equivalent of bumper stickers.
The Lone Star State has no shortage of specialty license plates including “Texas 4 ever” and “Ducks Unlimited”.
But state officials drew the line when one organization sought to have their logo — the confederate flag — depicted on a plate. The Supreme Court is considering whether the decision to exclude the Sons of Confederate Veterans (SCV) from the specialty license plate program violated the organization’s free speech rights under the First Amendment.
The decision is likely to affect specialty license plate programs in other states including a circuit split below concerning “Choose Life” plates. But other areas of speech could also be affected including advertisements in a bus, “adopt a highway” signs, public school brick programs and government websites. The court could give guidance to other states saying, for instance, that public displays can only be commercial speech, or specialty license plates have to go through the legislature.