Free Speech Protects COPSLIE Vanity Plate
(CN) - A New Hampshire man has the right to express his opinion that COPSLIE on his license plate, the state supreme court ruled, striking down as unconstitutionally vague a law that prohibits vanity plates "offensive to good taste."
New Hampshire law prohibits vanity plates that "a reasonable person would find offensive to good taste."
Under this law, the state Division of Motor Vehicles denied David Montenegro a vanity plate stating COPSLIE.
He was told that his request was denied because several DMV employees found the text "insulting" to police officers.
Montenegro then submitted a request for a vanity plate, GR8GOVT, which was approved. He surrendered that plate for a standard plate.
In court, Montenegro argued that the "good taste" law violated his right to free speech because it was too vague and that different DMV employees might enforce the law in different ways depending on their personal opinions.
The New Hampshire Supreme Court agreed with him last week, finding that the statute on its face "authorizes or even encourages arbitrary and discriminatory enforcement."
Because the law does not define what constitutes good taste, "the restriction grants DMV officials the power to deny a proposed vanity registration plate because it offends particular officials' subjective idea of what is 'good taste,'" Justice Carol Ann Conboy wrote for the unanimous court.
The DMV interpreted the phrase "to exclude accusations of moral turpitude," according to the 9-page opinion.
But the justices found: "We question whether prohibition of accusations of moral turpitude would constitute 'viewpoint-neutral' regulation."