Indiana Supreme Court backs BMV in ongoing battle over ‘0INK’ license plate

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Photo of plate from ACLU via IndyStar

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. (Nov. 6, 2015) – The Indiana Supreme Court reversed a ruling from a lower court that said the Indiana Bureau of Motor Vehicles violated a police officer’s freedom of speech when it revoked his “0INK” license plate.

The ACLU of Indiana sued the agency in 2013 on behalf of Greenfield resident Rodney Vawter, whose “0INK” license plate was a joke referencing his job as a police officer. The agency said the message was inappropriate and rejected the plate, even though Vawter had been approved for it in the past.

In May 2014, Marion Supreme Court Judge James Osborn said the BMV was inconsistent in how it applied its standards in determining the appropriateness of a vanity license plate. He said a state law regarding vanity license plates violated the First Amendment.

The Indiana BMV appealed, moving the case to the state’s highest court. In a ruling filed Friday, the Indiana Supreme Court overturned the lower court’s decision.

The court concluded that Indiana’s personalized license plates are government speech, meaning the BMV didn’t violate any constitutional rights in denying applications for vanity plates or revoking license plates that had already been issued.

From the ruling:

Indiana’s personalized license plates are government speech. The Bureau of Motor Vehicles, therefore, does not violate the First or Fourteenth Amendments in denying an application for a PLP or revoking a previously issued PLP. Furthermore, Due Process Clause protections do not apply because vehicle owners do not have a property interest in their personalized license plates. We reverse the trial court’s grant of the plaintiffs’ motion for summary judgment as to these issues and direct the trial court to enter summary judgment on these claims for the BMV.

Earlier this year, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in a similar case in Texas regarding “Sons of Confederate Veterans” license plates. In that 5-4 ruling, the nation’s highest court found in favor of the state, saying it had the right to reject the group’s application for a special plate, which would have included the image of a Confederate flag.

Read the Indiana ruling here.

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