Texas Sons of Confederate Veterans sues over license plates
December 8, 2011
A group that campaigned unsuccessfully for Texas to issue a specialty license plate featuring a Confederate flag is suing the state's Department of Motor Vehicles board in federal court.
The Texas division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, a 30,000-member group based in Columbia, Tenn., released a statement Thursday after filing the lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Austin arguing that the DMV infringed on its right to free speech by refusing the license plate design.
"The 1st Amendment clearly protects controversial speech," the group said in a statement sent to The Times, noting that the same day the eight-member DMV board voted unanimously to reject the Confederate plate last month it approved a plate that "is offensive to Native Americans" because it honors the Buffalo Soldiers, an all-black cavalry that helped fight Native Americans in the 1800s.
"The board seeks to bar the Texas SCV from expressing their viewpoint while allowing all other groups to express their viewpoint. This type of restriction is exactly the type which the 1st Amendment is designed to erase," the statement said.
Texas officials turned down a Sons of Confederate Veterans' request for a specialty plate three years ago, citing rules that banned political or controversial plates. The rules changed two years ago, and the board has since approved all 89 proposed specialty designs.
"We said if we don't get the plates we're going to sue them," Marshall Davis, a spokesman for the group in Austin, told The Times. "There are other organizations that have had to sue their states to get their 1st Amendment rights, and this is the same thing."
Davis said his group was optimistic it would prevail because "a precedent has been set" in other states. Nine other states have approved Sons of Confederate Veterans' specialty plates, but Virginia, Maryland and North Carolina only did so after the group sued. A similar suit is pending in Florida.
Davis said the design, which features a Confederate flag as part of the Sons of Confederate Veterans' logo, honors veterans. He said the group planned to use proceeds from plate sales, a portion of which return to the sponsoring group, to educate the public about Civil War history.
Opponents called the flag a symbol of bigotry. The NAACP gathered more than 22,000 petition signatures and a letter from at least 19 state legislators opposing the plates.
Before the DMV vote, Gov. Rick Perry had said he opposed the Confederate license plate proposal during a campaign appearance in his bid for the Republican presidential nomination.
DMV officials told the Associated Press they had not seen the lawsuit late Thursday.