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Monday, May 27, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Georgia Bans Thousands of Vanity Plates

ATLANTA (CN) - A Georgia man sued the state for refusing to issue him a vanity license plate celebrating his homosexuality.

In fact, James Gilbert's preferred "prestige plate," 4GAYLIB, is No. 9,501 on Georgia's list of banned license plates, he says in the complaint.

James Cyrus Gilbert III sued Georgia Department of Driver Services Commissioner Robert Mikell, in Federal Court.

The state refused all of his requests for a "prestige plate," Gilbert says, including "4GAYLIB, which plaintiff indicated as meaning 'For Gay Lib,' GAYPWR, which plaintiff indicated as meaning 'Gay Power,' and GAYGUY, which plaintiff indicated as meaning 'Gay Guy,'" Gilbert says in the complaint.

Those were his top three choices, in order of preference.

Under state law, Georgia may reject applications for prestige plates if the messages they convey are obscene, defamatory, promote criminal activity, or if they ridicule a person, group, religious belief, race or ethnicity.

Gilbert says his messages are none of those things. But it turns out that the state has a list of forbidden license plates.

When Gilbert submitted his MV-9B request for a prestige plate, a DDS agent checked them against a database.

"A review of the 'Bad Tag List,' Exhibit B, shows that plaintiff's requested messages are all banned. 4GAYLIB is listed as the 9,501st entry; GAYPWR is the 3,011th entry, and GAYGUY is the 3,006th entry," the complaint states.

The Atlanta Journal and Constitution newspaper obtained a copy of Georgia's "Bad Tag List."

"The state has rejected thousands of vanity license plates ... to protect the public from offensive language," the newspaper reported. "Most are too vulgar to print. Some are just silly: BIGBRA, EROTIKA, FOXIE1.

"But buried amid that list of licentiousness are religious, philosophical and political expressions the state also has deemed unsuitable to appear on motor vehicles. GODROKS, GODWHO, ILUVGUNS, GAYPWR and FEMM have been nixed by State Department of Revenue employees, who have wide latitude and only vague statutory guidance in deciding what speech gets squashed. Yet GOD4EVR, GUNLUV, GAYGAY and FEMFTAL got their nod," the newspaper reported.

The state's list of banned plates, as reported by the Journal Constitution, would surely trouble any constitutional scholar. The state lists bar 10,214 plates but accept 91,151, according to the Journal Constitution.

BELLY is acceptable, but UTERUS is not.

GERMAN, SAUDIA and SYRIA are acceptable, but IRAQ and IRAN2 are "offensive."

GOTBEER is forbidden, but LOVWINE is OK.

Glibert says in his complaint: "Prestige license plates are a designated public forum, and the content-based restrictions of that forum do not satisfy strict scrutiny, as they are not based on compelling interest, not narrowly tailored and give unbridled discretion to the licensing authority.

"Even if prestige license plates are a nonpublic forum, the restrictions are not reasonable or viewpoint neutral and give unbridled discretion to the licensing authority."

He claims: "The regulations also impose broad and ill-defined limitations on the content of speech that can be conveyed by prestige license plates."

Gilbert says: "By his application and now this action, plaintiff seeks to engage in political speech in favor of rights for homosexuals. He also would like to engage in social debate about the role of visibility of homosexuals in society. And, particularly, with the proposed 'GAYGUY' license plate, Plaintiff intended to identify himself as a homosexual."

He claims that the denial, and the law that authorizes it, are "unconstitutionally overbroad, since it does not include any criteria for determining whether a specific prestige plate falls within the categories listed in the regulation, and because the categories are not reasonable and viewpoint neutral, and include speech protected by the First and Fourteenth Amendments of the United States Constitution and Article I, Section I, Paragraph V of the Constitution of the State of Georgia."

Gilbert wants an injunction and he wants his vanity plates.

He is represented by Cynthia Counts and Gerry Weber of Atlanta.

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