Austin—The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled today that the Texas branch of the Sons of Confederate Veterans has the right to have the state issue license plates adorned with the Confederate battle flag.
In April last year, U.S. District Judge Sam Sparks ruled against the group, declaring that the state was allowed to pick and choose which messages and symbols appear on state-issued plates.
At issue in the Circuit Court was whether the state Department of Motor Vehicles Board had engaged in “viewpoint discrimination” and violated the group’s First Amendment right when it denied an application for a specialty plate.
The judges ruled that license plates are a form of “private speech,” and thus protected by the First Amendment. The court also ruled that the Board’s rejection of the plate “favored one speaker over another.”
Supporters of the plate argued that the flag honored Confederate soldiers and Southern heritage, while those opposed said the flag symbolized a racially-charged message and that distributing such a plate would be tantamount to the state memorializing slavery.
Texas could choose to appeal for a rehearing by the 5th Circuit judges or to the Supreme Court.