Judge: License Plate Guidelines Too Arbitrary
By Mike Perleberg
(Indianapolis, Ind.) – A judge in Marion County, Indiana has ruled in a case concerning vanity license plates issued by the Indiana Bureau of Motor Vehicles.
Greenfield police officer Rodney Vawter’s request for an Indiana Fraternal Order of Police personalized plate reading “0INK” – a nod to the derogatory term some use for police men and women – was denied last year. That’s after it had been approved for more than three years with the blessing of the FOP.
The lawsuit filed in Marion Superior Court last year by a Greenfield police officer represented by the Americal Civil Liberties Union of Indiana alleged that the Indiana BMV’s rules for vanity plates was too vague.
The suit also pointed out a number of examples of the vanity plates guidelines being subjective. ACLU of Indiana Legal Director Kenneth J. Falk said that the BMV’s standards were so arbitrary that while plates reading ‘NOBAMA,’ ‘SEXYGRMA,’ and ‘BIBLE H8R’ were denied, those approved included ‘GOBAMA,’ ‘FOXYGMA,’ and ‘BIBLE4M’.
Judge James Osborn agreed in his Wednesday ruling, stating that the standards the BMV was using to assess the appropriateness of personalized license plates violated the First Amendment and Indiana law. He ordered that those standards cease being used and the program, which was suspended last July, be reinstated immediately.
The judge also ordered the BMV to properly establish rules for the personalized plate program.
Another plaintiff, Jay Voigt of Allen County, had had his personalized license plate of “UNHOLY” revoked as inappropriate as well. Voigt was unable to reapply for a personalized plate because of the suspension. Osborn ordered that the request not be denied.
“The First Amendment prevents arbitrary decision making when it comes to expression,” said Falk.
Indiana’s specialty plate program allows motorists to pay an extra fee to determine which eight or fewer letters or numbers appear on their plate.