The South Will Ride Again: License Plates and First Amendment Speech in Texas Division, Sons of Confederate Veterans, Inc. v. Vandergriff

Note by Sumner Fontaine

Within the realm of American automotive self-expression, the allure of personalized license plates cannot be denied. In the state of Texas, drivers so inclined may choose from over 300 approved specialty licensed plates to display on their vehicles or, alternatively, apply for a new design to be featured. The Texas Division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans (Texas SCV), a nonprofit organization that strives to honor the memory and character of the soldiers who fought for the Confederate Army, applied to the Texas Department of Transportation for approval of a new specialty license plate. The proposed plate design prominently displays two Confederate flags as well as the outline of the state of Texas. After two disputed votes held by the controlling panel, the Texas Department of Transportation denied Texas SCV’s application. Thereafter, the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles (Board) assumed responsibility for the administration of the specialty license plate program, and Texas SCV resubmitted its application using the same plate design. After a deadlocked four-to-four vote with one member absent, the Board invited the public to attend a second vote and comment on the plate’s design. The majority of public comments disapproved of the image of the Confederate flag, and the Board unanimously denied Texas SCV’s application.


89 Tul. L. Rev. 921 (2015)