First Amendment topicsAbout the First Amendment
Analysis
 
State-by-state statutes governing license plates

By Bill Kenworthy
First Amendment Center legal research assistant
01.20.06

Editor’s note: Within each state, the laws governing license plates for causes and organizations (specialty plates) are presented first: statute followed by administrative rule or regulation, if any. Next the statute governing personalized or “vanity” plates is given, again followed by any regulation/rule. Occasionally the same statute controls both types of license plate. For some states, brief introductions explain special circumstances. Any relevant court rulings are noted. Updated February 2007.

Alabama

Specialty plates

Code of Alabama

Sect. 32-6-64. Design - Distinctive license plates - Duties of Department of Corrections.

(b) Effective January 1, 1997, the sponsoring organization of any new or reissued distinctive license plate that is not of a college or university or an existing military category shall assure a minimum quantity of 250 registrations in order for the proposed plate to qualify for production consideration by the legislative oversight committee under the provisions of Section 32-6-67.

Sect. 32-6-67. Committee; implementation and administration of provisions
   (a) There is created a legislative committee to oversee the implementation and administration of this Article 2 [License Tags and Plates]

   (b) The committee shall:

 (3) Establish guidelines for the qualification of organizations which may sponsor a new or continued issuance of a license plate category, or may benefit from that issuance.

(4) Approve, disapprove, or indefinitely postpone, by a vote of two-thirds of the members present at a committee meeting, a request for a new license plate category.

   (d) The committee shall not consider for approval applications from the following types of organizations:
   (1) Out-of-state colleges and universities.
   (2) Private businesses, business organizations, or commercial entities of any type.
   (3) Public and private schools K-12, junior colleges, and technical schools, exclusive of the Helping Schools Tag as established in Sections 32-6-300 and 32-6-301.
   (4) Groups within high schools, junior colleges, universities, and technical schools, such as band boosters, athletic boosters, and the like.
   (5) Unions.
   (6) Political organizations.
   (7) Religious organizations.
   (8) Groups that promote racial or social disharmony.
   (9) Public officials.

Personalized plates

Code of Alabama

Sect. 32-6-150. Issuance
   (a) Owners of motor vehicles, motorcycles, and motor-driven cycles who are residents of Alabama, upon application to the judge of probate or commissioner of licenses … shall be issued personalized license tags or plates upon which…shall be inscribed special letters, figures, numbers, or other marks, emblems, symbols, or badges of distinction or personal prestige or a combination of these as are approved for and assigned to the application by the Department of Revenue.

Alabama Administrative Code

810-5-1-.202. Personalized License Tags - Rejection of Objectionable Language or Symbols.

(1) WHEREAS, the Department of Revenue is authorized by statute to promulgate rules and regulations relating to the use and operation of a private passenger or pleasure motor vehicle before the owner thereof can obtain a personalized license tag, the Department of Revenue shall determine whether or not to manufacture and issue the license plate as applied for.

(2) IT IS THEREFORE ORDERED that no license plate be manufactured and issued which contains objectionable language or symbols which are considered by the Department of Revenue to be offensive to the peace and dignity of the State of Alabama.

Alaska
Organizations/entities must have legislative sponsorship and authorization before a new distinctive license plate will be issued.

Specialty plates

Alaska Statutes

Sec. 28.10.181. Registration of unique and special vehicles and vehicles used for special purposes.
(e) Vehicles owned by the state, municipalities, and charitable organizations of the state. Every certificate of registration and registration plate issued to the state, a municipality, or charitable organization of the state is in effect until the vehicle for which the registration certificate and plate were issued is no longer owned and operated by the state, the municipality, or the charitable organization of the state or until the department, in its discretion, declares its expiration … . Registration plates issued under this subsection must be of a distinctive design and numbering system. For the purposes of this subsection, "charitable organization" means a nonprofit association, corporation, society, or other entity organized, incorporated, or headquartered in the state for educational, cultural, scientific, or other charitable purposes, as prescribed in regulations of the department.

Personalized plates

Sec. 28.10.181. Registration of unique and special vehicles and vehicles used for special purposes.
(c) Special request plates. Upon application by the owner of a passenger vehicle, motorcycle, noncommercial van or pick-up truck, or motor home, the department shall design and issue registration plates containing a series of not more than six letters or numbers or combination of letters and numbers as requested by the owner. The department may, in its discretion, disapprove the issuance of registration plates under this subsection when the requested symbols are a duplication of an existing registration or when the symbols are considered unacceptable by the department.

Alaska Administrative Code

13 AAC 70.170. Personalized registration plates for motor vehicles.
(a) The department will issue personalized registration plates for a pickup truck, van, motor home, passenger car, or motorcycle not used for commercial purposes. (b) The department will not issue personalized registration plates displaying (8) symbols in a combination which demeans any ethnic or racial group, carries a prurient meaning, or which is otherwise vulgar or indecent; any combination known by the department to be patently offensive to a person of ordinary sensibilities will be considered vulgar or indecent or carrying a prurient meaning; any combination known by the department to be patently offensive to any racial or ethnic group will be considered demeaning to that group.

Arizona

Specialty plates

Arizona Revised Statutes

Sec. 28-2404. Special organization plates; state highway fund account; definitions
A. An organization may submit a request to the department on a form prescribed by the department for a special organization plate. In the request the organization may propose suggested indicia for the special organization plate that are indicative of the organization. If the department determines the organization meets the requirements of an organization as defined in this section, the department shall submit the request for a special organization plate to the license plate commission established by section 28-2405.

B. The commission shall determine and inform the department whether the requested special organization plate is authorized. The commission shall authorize a special organization plate if the organization meets the following requirements:
   1. The primary activity or interest of the organization serves the community, contributes to the welfare of others and is not offensive or discriminatory in its purpose, nature, activity or name.
   2. The name of the organization or any part of the organization's purpose does not promote any specific product or brand name that is provided for sale.
   3. The purpose of the organization does not promote a specific religion, faith or antireligious belief.

Personalized plates

Sec. 28-2406. Personalized special plates.
    A. A person may apply for personalized special plates for any vehicle the person owns or leases or as a gift for the owner or lessee of a vehicle by indicating on the application the letters, numbers or combination of letters and numbers requested as a registration number. The department shall determine the number of positions allowed on the personalized special plates. The personalized special plates shall not conflict with existing plates and shall not duplicate registration numbers. The department may refuse to issue or may suspend, cancel or revoke any combination of letters or numbers or any combination of letters and numbers that carries connotations that are offensive to good taste and decency, any combination that is misleading or any combination that duplicates other plates.

Case

Ariz. Life Coalition, Inc. v. Stanton, No. CV-03-1691-PHX-PGR (U.S. Dist., 2005)
Arizona Life Coalition bought suit against the Arizona License Plate Committee claiming they violated the ALC’s First Amendment rights after the license plate committee denied the ALC’s application for a special “Choose Life” license plate. The court ruled that ALC failed to show that their rights were violated by the denial of their application. The court wrote:

“Due to the necessity of vehicle identification by state authorities, speech on state-approved, state-issued license plates is governmental in nature and constitutes a nonpublic forum from which access is selective rather than general. Defendants' action was reasonable in light of the purpose served by license plates, that is, the identification of a vehicle and its owner.

“Furthermore, Defendants' action did not result in viewpoint discrimination. The Commission sought to avoid the appearance political favoritism in an otherwise nonpublic forum and maintained state neutrality on the issue, giving neither side a leg up in this hotly debated public question. On that basis, Plaintiffs' claims that the Commission engaged in the use of unbridled discretion and abuse of power, as well as the Commission's alleged equal protection violations, must all fail. Since no constitutional violation exists, this Court cannot find A.R.S. Sec. 28-2404 unconstitutional without proof of a contrary legislative intent.”

Arkansas

Specialty plates

Arkansas Code

Chapter 24. Special License Plate Act of 2005.
27-24-105. Design.
 (a) Unless otherwise provided in this chapter, the Director of the Department of Finance and Administration shall have the exclusive power to design or approve the design used on a special license plate authorized under this chapter.

Personalized plates

Special Personalized Prestige License Plates.

Sec. 27-14-1104. Rules and regulations.
   (a) The Director of the Department of Finance and Administration is authorized to promulgate rules and regulations regarding the maximum and minimum number of letters, numbers, or symbols on special plates issued under this subchapter.
   (b) The director may also promulgate such other rules and regulations as shall be deemed necessary or desirable for effectively carrying out the intent and purposes of this subchapter and the laws of this state relative to the regulation and licensing of motor vehicles.

California

Specialty plates

California Codes

Cal. Veh. Code Sec. 5060.  Application and issuance; Criteria; Design; Revenues and costs; Annual accounting report
   (a) An organization may apply to the department for participation in a special interest license plate program and the department shall issue special license plates for that program if the issuance of those plates is required by this article, the sponsoring organization complies with the requirements of this section, and the organization meets all of the following criteria:
    (1) Qualifies for tax-exempt status under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code and Section23701d of the Revenue and Taxation Code.
   (3) Submits a design of the organization's proposed special interest license plate that, among other things, provides for the placement of the number and letter characters in a manner that allows for law enforcement to readily identify those characters.

Sec. 5105.  Form, date, and contents of application; Allowable messages.
   (a) An applicant for issuance of environmental license plates or renewal of such plates in the subsequent year pursuant to this article shall file an application therefor in such form and by such date as the department may require, indicating thereon the combination of letters or numbers, or both, requested as a registration number. There shall be no duplication of registration numbers, and the department may refuse to issue any combination of letters or numbers, or both, that may carry connotations offensive to good taste and decency or which would be misleading or a duplication of license plates provided for in Article 8 (commencing with Section 5000) of Chapter 1 of Division 3.

Personalized plates

Sec. 5103.  "Environmental license plates"
"Environmental license plates," as used in this article, means license plates or permanent trailer identification plates that have displayed upon them the registration number assigned to the passenger vehicle, commercial motor vehicle, motorcycle, trailer, or semitrailer for which a registration number was issued in a combination of letters or numbers, or both, requested by the owner or lessee of the vehicle.

California Code of Regulations

Sec. 170.00.  Information Required on a Special Interest/Environmental License Plate Application.
(D) The department shall refuse any configuration that may carry connotations offensive to good taste and decency, or which would be misleading, based on criteria which includes, but is not limited to, the following:
   1. The configuration has a sexual connotation or is a term of lust or depravity.
   2. The configuration is a vulgar term; a term of contempt, prejudice, or hostility; an insulting or degrading term; a racially degrading term; or an ethnically degrading term.
   3. The configuration is a swear word or term considered profane, obscene, or repulsive.
   4. The configuration has a negative connotation to a specific group.
   5. The configuration misrepresents a law enforcement entity.
   6. The configuration has been deleted from regular series license plates.
   7. The configuration is a foreign or slang word or term, or is a phonetic spelling or mirror image of a word or term falling into the categories described in subdivisions 1. through 6. above.

Case

Women's Res. Network v. Gourley, 305 F. Supp. 2d 1145, 1147 (E.D. Cal., 2004)
The Women’s Resource Network brought suit against Steven Gourley, the Director of the California Department of Motor Vehicles, after their unsuccessful attempt to get the California Legislature to enact an enabling statute permitting the California DMV to issue “Choose Life” license plates. The WRN “was seeking to invalidate numerous specialized license plates mounted on California motor vehicles. Plaintiffs contend these plates were issued through an unconstitutional, standardless statutory scheme which gives the California Legislature unbridled discretion to decide whether to authorize issuance of a plate. Each challenged plate was specifically authorized by statute. Plaintiffs seek to prevent Gourley from renewing license plates issued under the challenged statutes and from issuing any new license plate authorized by the Legislature under California Vehicle Code Sec. 5060. They also seek an order requiring Gourley to recall all plates previously issued under the statutes.”

The court agreed with WRN in part. The court ruled that the statute as proscribed at the time did give “California legislators unconstitutional, unfettered discretion to deny a private nonprofit organization's request for an enabling statute authorizing issuance of a plate. This aspect of the forum is facially unconstitutional under the First Amendment because no standard governs the decision [of] who may speak … . Therefore, the Director of the California Department of Motor Vehicles is permanently enjoined from approving any new special interest license plate under the scheme now prescribed in Sec. 5060 for private non-profit organizations.”

The court did not agree when it came to previously issued plates. The court found the speech on these plates was a mixture of  private and government speech and that the “WRN has not shown it has a ‘First Amendment right to dictate or to contribute to the content of [this government] speech.’” (Editor's note: The court in this case was quoting a previous case and added the [ ].) Thus, this part of WRN’s suit was rejected.

Colorado

Specialty plates

Colorado Statutes

42-3-207. Special plates - rules - new plates – retirement.
   (2) Before a bill is introduced in the general assembly that contains, or any bill is amended to contain, a provision that establishes a new category or type of group special license plate, the person, group, or association proposing such special license plate shall submit to the department a proposal for a group special license plate and certify by March 1 of each year that at least three thousand of such special plates are to be issued within one year after the authorization of such plates.
   (3) A group special license plate shall not be issued to any business entity conducted for profit.

Personalized plates

42-3-211. Issuance of personalized plates authorized.
   (5) An applicant for issuance of personalized license plates or renewal of such plates shall apply in such form and by such date as the department may require, indicating thereon the combination of letters or numbers requested as a registration number. There shall be no duplication of registration numbers, and the department may refuse to issue any combination of letters or numbers that carry connotations offensive to good taste and decency, are misleading, or duplicate any other license plates provided for in this article.

Colorado Code of Regulations

1 CCR 204-14. LICENSE PLATES, INSPECTION, REGISTRATION, OWNERSHIP TAXES, DEALERS, ENFORCEMENT AND HEARING PROCEDURES.
SPECIAL INTEREST LICENSE PLATES.
Requirements
  1. Special Interest License Plates must be designed within the formats established by the Department of Revenue.
  6. The Department of Revenue may deny any application request which may carry connotations offensive to the average citizen or which would be misleading.

Connecticut

Specialty plates

Connecticut General Statutes

Sec. 14-19a. Regulations re issuance of special number plates to members of qualifying organizations. Issuance and renewal of collegiate special number plates. Discontinuance of special number plates.
    (a) The Commissioner of Motor Vehicles shall adopt regulations in accordance with the provisions of chapter 54 to establish (1) standards for the issuance of a special certificate of registration and special number plates to a member of an organization which qualifies for issuance, (2) qualifications of organizations whose members wish to apply for such special registrations, (3) procedures for application for such special registration, and (4) a fee for such special number plates which shall cover at least the entire cost of making the plates and which shall be in addition to the fee for registration of the motor vehicle. The regulations shall provide that a labor union shall be a qualifying organization.

Regulations of Connecticut State Agencies

Standards for the Issuance of Special Number Plates.
Sec. 14-19a-4. Criteria for qualification of an organization.
An organization to be qualified shall submit proof acceptable to the commissioner that it meets the following criteria:
   (a) It is a non-profit organization as demonstrated in its charter or by-laws and any Internal Revenue Service ruling, copies of which may be required by the commissioner;
   (b) The primary purpose of the organization is service to the community through a specific program which has as its goal improvement in public health, education or general welfare, and the organization is not limited to social activities. Organizations of military service veterans, towns, municipal corporations, organizations of police or firefighters, and similar public service organizations, need not comply with this subsection;
   (c) The legend of the organization and its emblem are not obscene, do not promote, advertise or endorse a product, brand or service provided for sale, and do not promote any specific religious belief. An organization, association or trade group whose primary purpose is to advertise or promote commerce is not eligible;
   (d) The legend of the organization and its emblem as they appear on the special number plate does not infringe or otherwise violate a trademark, trade name, service mark, copyright or other proprietary right or property right, and the organization has the right to use the legend and emblem …

Personalized plates

Regulations of Connecticut State Agencies.
Sec. 14-21e-1. Definitions.
(h) "Vanity plate" means a number plate issued by the commissioner in accordance with Connecticut General Statutes Section 14-49 (s), as amended.

Sec. 14-49. Fees for miscellaneous registration and other fees.
    (s) A fee of sixty-five dollars shall be charged in addition to the regular fee prescribed for the registration of a motor vehicle…in accordance with this section for a number plate or plates for such vehicle bearing any combination of letters or numbers requested by the registrant and which may be issued in the discretion of the commissioner, except in any case in which the number plates bear the official call letters of an amateur radio station.

Delaware

Specialty plates

Delaware Code

21 Del. C. Sec. 2140. Special registration plates for members of nonprofit organizations.
   (a) The owner of a motor vehicle described in subsection (b) of this section who is a member of a nonprofit organization considered eligible by the Division of Motor Vehicles may apply to the Division for the assignment of a special registration plate for such vehicle.
   (i) The Division of Motor Vehicles may refuse to issue special registration plates when it is deemed not in the best interest of the State.

Personalized plates

21 Del. C. Sec. 2121. Number and registration plates; provision for the issuance of special license plates to the owners of motor vehicles who operate amateur radio stations; special vanity plates.
   (h) This title notwithstanding, the Department, upon written application, shall furnish to any owner of a motor vehicle otherwise entitled to a license plate, who is a resident of this State, a special vanity license plate for each motor vehicle owned by such individual for which the required registration fee has been paid, which plate shall have displayed thereon:
     (1) Any single letter or combination of letters or combination of letters and numerals, not to exceed 7 in number. If the combination includes numerals, the numerals shall be displayed to the right of all letters on the plate. A hyphen shall be permitted and shall be counted as 1 letter. In its discretion, the Department may refuse any combination of letters, or letters and numerals. The Department may refuse 7 character combinations that do not allow adequate spacing between letters and/or numbers.

District of Columbia

Specialty plates

Code of D.C. Municipal Regulations.

18-433. ORGANIZATION TAGS
   433.1 This Director may issue a tag bearing markings related to an organization ("Organization Tag") only if the tag has been established by the Council of the District of Columbia or approved by the Director as provided in this section.
   433.2 An organization seeking the Director's approval of an organization tag must be a non-profit corporation, as that term is defined in Sec. 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code (46 U.S.C. Sec. 501(c)(3)), and must submit an application to the Director.
   433.5 The format of any organization tag design shall be approved by the Director and shall not obscure any of the lettering or numbering on the tag.

Personalized plates

18-423. PERSONALIZED IDENTIFICATION TAGS.
   423.13 The Director shall reject any proposed tag content that conveys a message, or displays an image, that is confusing or offensive to the general public.

   423.14 For the purpose of Sec. 423.13, the director shall reject any combination of letters or numbers that;
(a) Is vulgar, derogatory, profane, scatological or obscene, with any connotation, in any language;
(b) Connote, in any language, breast, genitalia, public area, or buttocks or relate to sexual or eliminatory functions;
(c) Connote, in any language (i) the illicit drug, narcotic, intoxicant, or related paraphernalia; (ii) the sale, user, or purveyor of such a substance; or (iii) the physiological state produced by such a substance;
(d) Refer, in any language, to a race, religion, color, deity, ethnic heritage, gender, sexual orientation, disability status, or political affiliation;
(e) Suggest, in any language, a government or governmental agency;
(f) Suggest, in any language, a privilege not given by law in this state; or
(g) Form, in any language, a slang term, abbreviation, phonetic spelling or mirror image of a word described in this subsection.

Florida

Specialty plates

Florida Statutes

Fla. Stat. Sec. 320.08053.
Sec. 320.08053. Requirements for requests to establish specialty license plates.
(2) If the specialty license plate requested by the organization is approved by law, the organization must submit the proposed art design for the specialty license plate to the department, in a medium prescribed by the department, as soon as practicable, but no later than 60 days after the act approving the specialty license plate becomes a law. If the specialty license plate requested by the organization is not approved by the Legislature, the application fee shall be refunded to the requesting organization.

(3) The department shall adopt rules providing viewpoint-neutral specifications for the design of specialty license plates that promote or enhance the readability of all specialty license plates and that discourage counterfeiting.

Personalized plates

Sec. 320.0805. Personalized prestige license plates.
(4) The department is authorized to reject requests deemed by it to be objectionable, and the department is further authorized to recall, during a registration period, any issued personalized license plate determined by it to be obscene or otherwise objectionable.

Case

Women's Emergency Network v. Bush, 323 F.3d 937, 940 (11th Cir., 2003)
The Women’s Emergency Network appealed a district court’s dismissal of its First Amendment claims against the State of Florida for lack of standing. The group challenged Florida’s authorization of “Choose Life” specialty license plates and the state’s directing of funds from their sale to groups providing adoption services (“pursuant to Fla. Stat. Sec. 320.08058(30)”). “We agree with the district court that [Women's Emergency Network] lack standing to bring their constitutional challenges to the Florida statute, and we therefore affirm the district court's opinions,” the 11th Circuit said.

Georgia

Specialty and personalized plates

Code of Georgia

O.C.G.A. Sec. 40-2-60.1.  Administrative process for additional special license plates; legislative findings; rules and regulations; fees.
(a) …The commissioner is authorized to adopt rules and regulations for the issuance of special license plates for groups of individuals and vehicles …
(3) The rules and regulations may provide for exceptions whereby a special plate will not be issued if the issuance of the plate would adversely affect public safety …

O.C.G.A. Sec. 40-2-60.  Prestige license plates.
(d) The commissioner is authorized to establish procedures and promulgate rules and regulations for carrying out this Code section.

State of Georgia Department of Revenue Rules and Regulations

Specialty plates

MOTOR VEHICLE UNIT.
CHAPTER 560-10-22
ISSUANCE OF SPECIAL PRESTIGE LICENSE PLATES
560-10-22-.13 Issuance of Special License Plates Commemorating Certain Organizations, Institutions, Associations or Groups.
(3) No special license plate will be approved that adversely affects public safety. No special license plate shall be approved by the commissioner which is determined to be obscene, profane, or defamatory of a religious belief or being, race or ethnic group.

Personalized plates

560-10-22-.02 Special Prestige License Plates.
(3) The Motor Vehicle Division shall not issue a special prestige license plate which is considered to be obscene according to current community standards, nor shall they issue a special prestige license plate which defames a religious belief or being, race or ethnic group. Special prestige license plates will not be issued using profanity. The Motor Vehicle Division shall recall any special prestige license plate which may be determined to be obscene, profane or defamatory of a religious belief or being, race or ethnic group.

Hawaii
Hawaii does not have a statewide Department of Motor Vehicles. Vehicle registration is handled by the individual county governments.

Hawaii Statutes
Sec. 286-66 Director in charge

The director of civil defense shall be responsible for processing all applications for the special license plates and shall make all necessary arrangements for the purchase and issuance thereof.

Idaho

Specialty plates

Idaho Code

Sec. 49-402C.   Special license plate programs - Standardized plate color and design.
(1) It is the intent of the legislature that special license plates issued by the department be readily recognizable as plates from the state of Idaho without losing the uniqueness for which the special plate was designed and purchased.
(2) No special license plates and no special license plate programs in existence on or before June 30, 1998, shall be affected by the provisions of this section. On and after July 1, 1998, any new special license plate program authorized or any redesign of an existing special license plate, shall use the same red, white and blue background as the standard issue of license plates described in section 49-443, Idaho Code, except that:
   (a) The identification of county shall be omitted;
   (b) The word "Idaho" shall appear on every plate;
   (c) The inscription "Scenic Idaho" may be omitted without legislative consideration and approval; and
   (d) No slogan shall be used that infringes upon, dilutes or compromises, or could be perceived to infringe upon, dilute or compromise, the trademarks of the state of Idaho, including, but not limited to, "Idaho Potatoes(R)," "Grown in Idaho(R)," "Famous Idaho Potatoes(R)" or "Famous Potatoes(R)."

Personalized plates

Sec. 49-409. Personalized license plates
   (1) Any person who is the owner of a vehicle registered under section 49-402 or 49-434(1), Idaho Code, may apply to the department for personalized license plates in lieu of regular numbered plates … . The personalized license plates shall be of the same color and design as other license plates, and shall consist of numbers or letters, or any combination thereof, not exceeding seven (7) positions. No more than one (1) particular combination of letters and numbers shall be in existence at any one (1) time. The form for application of the plates will be as prescribed by the director who, at his discretion, may refuse to issue the plates.

Idaho Administrative Code

IDAPA 39.02.60.202
  08. Acceptability of Plates Message. Acceptability of the personalized license plate message and issuance, denial or cancellation will be determined by the Department based on the following criteria: Effective Date: (1-3-92)
   b. The message, in any language, may not carry a sexual connotation nor consist of a term that is considered to be one of: obscenity; contempt; prejudice; hostility; insult; racial degradation; ethnical degradation; profanity; or vulgarity as defined in dictionaries of general use, including Webster's Unabridged Dictionary and the Harper & Row New Dictionary of American Slang. Effective Date: (1-8-90)
   c. The criteria in Subsection 202.08.b. above is not to be considered an exhaustive list. A compilation of offensive or obscene words, terms or letter/number combinations gathered from the experience of Idaho and other states may also be used as a guide. Effective Date: (1-3-92)
   e. Final determination regarding applications for questionable messages or cancellation of issued plates will be made by the Motor Vehicle Bureau. An applicant does, however, have a right to a hearing on the decision.

Illinois

Specialty plates

Illinois Statutes

Sec. 625 ILCS 5/3-600. Requirements for issuance of special plates
   (a) The Secretary of State shall not issue a series of special plates unless applications, as prescribed by the Secretary, have been received for 10,000 plates of that series; except that the Secretary of State may prescribe some other required number of applications if that number is sufficient to pay for the total cost of designing, manufacturing and issuing the special license plate.
   (b) The Secretary of State, upon issuing a new series of special license plates, shall notify all law enforcement officials of the design, color and other special features of the special license plate series.
   (c) This Section shall not apply to special license plate categories in existence on the effective date of this amendatory Act of 1990, or to the Secretary of State's discretion as established in Section 3-611 [625 ILCS 5/3-611].

Personalized plates

Sec. 625 ILCS 5/3-405.2. Improper plates
The Secretary of State shall refuse to issue any license plates bearing a combination of letters or numbers, or both, which creates a potential duplication or, in the opinion of the Secretary, (1) would substantially interfere with plate identification for law enforcement purposes, (2) is misleading, or (3) creates a connotation that is offensive to good taste and decency.

The Secretary may revoke any such plates issued previously.

Case

Choose Life Illinois v. White, No.04-c-4316. Choose Life Illinois is a nonprofit corporation whose stated purpose is to promote and increase adoption in that state. Starting in the 2001-2002 legislative session, several bills were introduced on the organization's behalf for a specialty plate that included the message “Choose Life.” Because the Illinois General Assembly never took action on the requests, they were in effect denied. In June 2004, the organization filed a lawsuit alleging that the state’s refusal to act on its requests amounted to unconstitutional viewpoint discrimination.

A U.S. district court in Illinois ruled Jan. 19, 2007, that the messages on specialty license plates are privately crafted, privately funded and constitute private speech. When the government voluntarily provides a forum for private expression, in this case through the specialty-plate program, it may not discriminate against some speakers because of their viewpoint. The court said the “Choose Life” message certainly represents a pro-life viewpoint. “The state’s reason for denying the speech is because it is controversial," the court said. "However, because it is private speech, this reason will not survive strict scrutiny.” The court added: “When a group … has met the numerical and financial requirements of the specialty plate program to deny authorization of the Choose Life plates is to discriminate against those who hold a pro-life viewpoint. This is impermissible.”

The Illinois secretary of state was ordered to issue the “Choose Life” plate.

Indiana

Specialty plates

Indiana Code

CHAPTER 25. SPECIAL GROUP RECOGNITION LICENSE PLATES.
Sec. 9-18-25-2. Authorization of plate design and issuance
   (a) The bureau shall adopt rules under IC 4-22-2 establishing the requirements to qualify for participation in the special group recognition license plate program.

Indiana Administrative Code

140 IAC 2-4-1 Statement of intent
   Sec. 1. (a) The bureau of motor vehicles will administer the issuance of special group license plates to honor deserving organizations that have made significant civic, community, and charitable contributions in Indiana or are descendants of native or pioneer residents of Indiana under IC 9-13-2-170.
   (b) The bureau of motor vehicles may, in its discretion, limit the number of new special group recognition plate types authorized in any one (1) year or years to regulate the proliferation of special group recognition plate types…

140 IAC 2-4-2 Petition for special group status
   Sec. 2. (a) An organization wishing to participate in the special group recognition license plate program must indicate to the bureau of motor vehicles its intent to be included in the special group recognition license plate program by filing a petition with the bureau of motor vehicles no later than March 31 of the calendar year immediately preceding the calendar year the special group recognition plates are to be issued.
   (b) The organization must include the following information with its petition for inclusion in the special group recognition program:
     (1) A description of the organization, including the following information:
       (A) The purpose of the organization.
       (B) The philosophy or mission statement of the organization.
       (C) The length of time the organization has been in existence.
       (D) The number of active members in the organization.
       (E) The organization's unique significance to the United States, Indiana, or the organization's community.
(2) A statement of the group's objective in obtaining a special group recognition license plate.
(3) A sworn statement from an authorized officer of the organization which affirms that, to the best knowledge of such officer, the organization does not discriminate on the basis of age, race, color, religion, sex, national origin, or disability in contravention of any federal, state, or local law, regulation, decree, or order in the selection of its members, its civic activities, or its services provided to the community it serves.
(4) A statement of the intended organizational uses of the funds, if any, raised through the sale of the plate.
(5) A certified copy of the organization's charter or articles of incorporation.
(6) A color drawing of the preliminary plate design.
(7) A statement describing the active membership of the organization who would be eligible for the special group recognition plate.
(8) Written documentation evidencing that the organization is not-for-profit in the manner provided in section 6 of this rule (140 IAC 2-4-6).
(9) Such other documentation or other information that the bureau of motor vehicles deems necessary to determine whether the organization qualifies for special group recognition status.

No petition will be considered until all of the information in this subsection is filed with the bureau of motor vehicles. The bureau of motor vehicles will notify the organization no later than May 1 of the calendar year in which the petition is filed whether the petition has been approved or not approved.

Personalized plates

Indiana Code
Sec. 9-18-15-4. Contents of application - Certain combinations prohibited
   (a) A person who applies for:
   (1) A personalized license plate; or
   (2) The renewal of a personalized license plate in the subsequent period;
 must file an application in the manner the bureau requires, indicating the combination of letters or numerals, or both, requested as a registration number.
(b) The bureau may refuse to issue a combination of letters or numerals, or both, that:
   (1) Carries a connotation offensive to good taste and decency; or
   (2) Would be misleading.

(There is no statute or administrative rule spelling out what is inappropriate, but the Indiana BMV Web site provides the following list.)

Your PLP request is considered unacceptable if it is:
1. Offensive or has an explicit sexual connotation
2. Defined in academically accepted dictionaries including, but not limited to, Webster's Unabridged Dictionary and the Dictionary of American Slang as being:
A. A vulgar term
B. A term of contempt, prejudice, or hostility
C. An insulting or degrading term
D. A racially degrading term
E. An ethnically degrading term
F. An alcohol related term, including specific alcohol drink names and brands
G. A drug related term
3. A term recognized as a swear word or considered profane, obscene or repulsive; or incites lust or depravity

Iowa

Specialty plates

Iowa Code

321.34  Plates or validation sticker furnished - retained by owner - special plates.
13.  New special registration plates - department review.
    a.  Any person may submit a request to the department to recommend a new special registration plate with a processed emblem. The request shall provide a proposed design for the processed emblem, the purpose of the special registration plate with the processed emblem, any eligibility requirements for purchase or receipt of the special registration plate with the processed emblem, and evidence there is sufficient interest in the special registration plate with the processed emblem to pay implementation costs. The department shall consider the request and make a recommendation based upon criteria established by the department which shall include consideration of the information included in the request, the number of special registration plates with processed emblems currently authorized, and any other relevant factors.

Iowa Administrative Code

761-401.15(321) Processed emblem application and approval process.

401.15(3) The application shall be accompanied by:
a. A color copy of the processed emblem.
   (2) The processed emblem shall not have any sexual connotation, nor shall it be vulgar, prejudiced, hostile, insulting, or racially or ethnically degrading.

Personalized plates

Iowa Code
321.34  Plates or validation sticker furnished - retained by owner - special plates.
5.  Personalized registration plates.
     a.  Upon application and the payment of a fee of twenty-five dollars, the director may issue to the owner of a motor vehicle registered in this state or a trailer or travel trailer registered in this state, personalized registration plates marked with up to seven initials, letters, or combination of numerals and letters requested by the owner … . The fee for issuance of the personalized registration plates shall be in addition to the regular annual registration fee.
Restrictions for personalized plates from the Iowa Department of Transportation:

  • No punctuation marks are allowed.
  • No denoting a government agency (i.e., DOT).
  • No display of characters which are sexual in connotation.
  • No characters suggesting profane, obscene or inflammatory words or phrases, or those contrary to public policy.
  • No characters or words defined in dictionaries as a term of vulgarity, contempt, prejudice, hostility, insult, or racial or ethnic degradation.
  • No characters considered to be offensive.
  • No characters that conflict with the regular license numbering system.
  • Any foreign word falling in any of these categories.
  • No duplicate combination of characters.

    Kansas
    Organizations/entities must have legislative sponsorship and authorization before a new distinctive license plate will be issued.

    Specialty plates

    Kansas Statutes
    8-1,141.   Distinctive license plates; procedure for issuance; requirements; fees; deadlines; exceptions.
    (e) (1)   Any person or organization sponsoring any distinctive license plate authorized by the legislature on and after July 1, 2004, shall submit to the division of vehicles a nonrefundable amount not to exceed $10,000, to defray the division's cost for developing such distinctive license plate.

    Personalized plates

    8-132.   License plates or decals to be furnished; time for new license plates; personalized license plates, display and cost; rules and regulations.
       (c)  Two personalized license plates may be issued to any owner or lessee … who makes proper application to the division of vehicles not less than 60 days prior to such owner's or lessee's renewal of registration date … . Unless the letters or numbers designated by the applicant have been assigned to another vehicle of the same type registered in the same county, or unless the letters or numbers designated by the applicant have a profane, vulgar, lewd or indecent meaning or connotation, as determined by the director of vehicles, the division shall assign such letters or numbers to the applicant's vehicle, and the letters or numbers, or combination thereof, so assigned shall be deemed the registration number of such vehicle.

    Kentucky

    Specialty plates

    Kentucky Revised Statutes

    Sec. 186.189. Special license plates for special groups or special purposes.
      (1) The Transportation Cabinet shall establish and may issue a special license plate to be used for special groups or special purposes. The cabinet may assign unique identifying letters and numbers to the special license plate authorized by this section.
      (2) An organization or group of persons who want to apply for a special license plate shall comply with the following conditions before being eligible to apply for a special license plate:
       (a) The organization or group shall be nonprofit;
       (b) The organization or group shall be based, headquartered, or have a chapter in Kentucky;
       (c) The organization or group may, but shall not be restricted to, social, civic, or entertainment purposes;
       (d) The name of the organization or group shall not be the name of a special product or a brand name;
       (e) The name of the organization or group shall not be construed as promoting a product or brand name as determined by the cabinet;
       (f) The organization or group shall not be a political party;
       (g) The organization or group shall not have been created primarily to promote a specific political belief; and
       (h) The organization or group shall not have as its primary purpose the promotion of any specific religion, faith, or antireligion.

    Personalized plates

    Sec. 186.174. Personalized license plates.
       (3) A personalized plate shall not be issued that would conflict with or duplicate the alphabetical-numerical system used for regular license plates or any other license plates issued in the Commonwealth, and shall not contain a combination of more than six (6) letters of the alphabet and Arabic numerals, including spaces. A personalized plate shall not be issued if, in the discretion of the cabinet, it carries a letter or number combinations that carry connotations offensive to good taste and decency …

    Louisiana

    Specialty plates

    Louisiana Revised Statutes

    Sec. 47:463. Private passenger vehicles; amputee veterans exempted; church, church school, and religious order vehicles.
     (3) (a) The secretary of the Department of Public Safety and Corrections shall issue license plates for private passenger vehicles …
          (b) No prestige plate shall be established after January 1, 2002, until the department has received a minimum of one thousand applications for such plate. In addition, the secretary shall establish a prestige license plate for an organization, in accordance with the provisions provided by law only when one of the following conditions is met:
             (i) The organization has prepaid to the secretary all the necessary fees required by law for one thousand applications for the license plate.
             (ii) The organization guarantees the secretary that if the license plate is established, at least one thousand license plates will be purchased by the members of the organization or citizens of Louisiana who have signed a list agreeing to purchase the license plate.

    Personalized plates

    Sec. 47:463.2. Special personalized prestige license plates for passenger vehicles.
       A. The commissioner shall establish and issue special personalized prestige license plates. The commissioner shall establish and promulgate rules and regulations for the procedures for application for and issuance of such special license plates … . The commissioner shall not issue a letter combination which might carry a connotation offensive to good taste and decency.

    Case

    Henderson v. Richard Stalder, Etc., 407 F.3d 351, 352 (5th Cir. 2005)
    “This appeal concerns whether Louisiana's prestige license plate program facially discriminates against pro-choice views in contravention of the First Amendment. The program diverts excess charges over handling and ordinary registration fees for the plates to organizations endorsed by the legislature. Because of this feature of the program, we conclude that we lack jurisdiction over the case because of the Tax Injunction Act, 28 U.S.C. Sec. 1341.” The lower court ruling was vacated and the case was remanded with instructions to dismiss. The lower court had previously ruled: “The State of Louisiana has created a forum-prestige license plates for privately owned vehicles — that is only open to those organizations the viewpoints of which the State approves. There is no neutrality in the scheme as it stands now; by defendants' own description of the scheme, an organization may only obtain a specialty plate if the Louisiana legislature condones the message so as to adopt it. Thus, regardless of the type of forum, it is presumptively unconstitutional.” Henderson v. Stalder, 265 F. Supp. 2d 699, 718 (E.D. La., 2003)

    Maine

    Specialty plates

    Maine Revised Statutes

    Sec. 468. Specialty plate
       The Secretary of State may not issue a specialty license plate unless the specialty license plate is authorized by the Legislature. For the purposes of this section, "specialty license plate" means a specially designed registration plate that may be used in place of the regular plate and registration for fundraising purposes.
    5. DESIGN APPROVAL. A sponsor must submit a proposed design for a specialty license plate for approval or modification by the Secretary of State. The joint standing committee of the Legislature having jurisdiction over transportation matters shall review the final design for a specialty license plate prior to manufacture of the plate.

    Sec. 468-A. Recognition license plates
       The Secretary of State may not issue a recognition license plate unless the recognition license plate is authorized by the Legislature. The Secretary of State shall administer a recognition license plate in accordance with this section.
        1. DEFINITION. "Recognition license plate" means a specially designed registration plate that may be used in place of the regular plate and registration for recognition purposes only and is not used for fundraising purposes.
        6. DESIGN APPROVAL. A sponsor must submit a proposed design for a recognition license plate for approval or modification by the Secretary of State. The joint standing committee of the Legislature having jurisdiction over transportation matters shall review the final design for a recognition license plate prior to the manufacture of the plate.

    Personalized plates

    Sec. 453. Vanity registration plates.
    3-A. RESTRICTIONS. The Secretary of State, in the Secretary of State's discretion, may refuse to issue a vanity plate that:
          A. Consists of or comprises language that is obscene, contemptuous,
         profane or prejudicial;
          B. Promotes abusive or unlawful activity;
          C. Falsely suggests an association with public institutions; or
          D. Is duplicative.

    Maryland

    Specialty plates

    Code of Maryland

    Sec. 13-619. Special registration plates for members of certain organizations.
     (c) Nonprofit organization. — The Administration may issue and continue a special registration number under this section if:
    (2) At least 25 owners of vehicles in a class apply to the Administration for the assignment of special registration numbers, and at least 25 special registration numbers are issued initially;
    (d) Regulations. — The Administration shall adopt regulations not inconsistent with the Maryland Vehicle Law to govern the issuance of special registration plates to members of nonprofit organizations under this section.
    (g) Contents of special registration plates. —
       (1) The special registration plates or plate issued under this section may consist of:
          (i)  1. Any combination of letters, numerals, or both; and
               2. The name, initials, or abbreviation of the name of the organization; or
          (ii) 1. Any combination of letters, numerals, or both;
               2. The name, initials, or abbreviation of the name of the organization; and
               3. An emblem or logo as authorized by the Administration that depicts the organization.

    Personalized plates

    Sec. 13-613. Personalized registration plates for Class A (passenger), Class D (motorcycle), Class E (truck), Class G (nonfreight trailer), Class L (historic), Class M (multipurpose) and Class N (street rod) vehicles.
    (c) Assignment of special number. —
          (2) In its discretion, the Administration may refuse any combination of letters and numerals.

    Massachusetts

    Specialty plates

    Annotated Laws of Massachusetts

    Sec. 2F. Design, Issue and Regulation of Distinctive Registration Plates.
       (a) The registrar shall design, issue and regulate the use of distinctive registration plates, subject to the following conditions … . Upon the completion of the submission of the bond and the 1,500 individual applications, the organization or group requesting the distinctive registration plate shall submit a proposed design for the plate. The registrar shall approve the design within 90 days of its submission. After the registrar grants approval of the design, the registrar shall send the distinctive registration plate into production.

    Personalized plates

    Sec. 2. Registration of Motor Vehicles and Trailers; Reciprocal Agreements With Other States; Transfer of Vehicles; Special License Plates.

    The registrar may also … furnish to owners of private passenger motor vehicles special number plates of distinctive types, to be known as distinctive initial plates, which may contain a register number consisting of a group of letters or a combination of numbers and letters; provided, however, that such group or combination shall not consist of more than six letters or numbers or combination thereof; and provided further, that there shall be no duplication of identification. The registrar may determine such standards and qualifications for the issuance of said plates as he deems proper.

    (There is no statute or rule/regulation spelling out what is improper, but the application for distinctive initial plates (“Request for Vanity Plates,” distributed by the state Registry of Motor Vehicles) lists the following standards:)

    1. The Registrar will not knowingly issue a requested Vanity registration plate containing a group of letters or combination of numbers and letters if the plate is either offensive or duplicative of an existing registration. Specifically, the Registrar will not issue a requested combination of letters and numbers or letters alone if:

  • Such combination is vulgar in that it is in poor taste or is degrading or is considered a profanity, including a swear or curse word, not usually displayed in the community for general viewing
  • Such combination is derogatory in that it disparages or belittles someone or something
  • Such combination is obscene in that it refers to a sexual body part, a term for or most closely associated with a sex act, or the availability for sex
  • Such combination is an expression of contempt, ridicule, or superiority of a race, religion, deity, ethnic heritage, gender, sexual orientation, or political affiliation
  • Such combination is an expression of “fighting words” designed to inflame passions and possibly lead to a violent confrontation
  • Such combination would appear to duplicate a registration already issued
    2. The Registrar may reject a requested combination for other reasons if she reasonably determines that issuance of the requested combination would be inappropriate as a state-issued registration plate.
    3. It is irrelevant whether offensive material is communicated when reading the vanity plate from left-to-right or from right-to-left, when viewed through a rear view mirror, or whether it is in a foreign language or in a code which only a small segment of the community may be able to readily decipher.
    4. The Registrar reserves the right to recall a vanity plate that has been issued, even if such registration and plate has been renewed. Once the Registrar becomes aware of the offensive nature of a group of letters or combination of numbers and letters, or a plate that appears to duplicate an existing registration, that is sufficient cause for rejection or recall.

    Michigan

    Specialty plates

    Michigan Statutes

    Sec. 257.803m.    Special organization plates.
    (2) Special organization plates shall bear letters and numbers as the secretary of state prescribes. Special organization plates may contain the symbol of the organization to the left of the plate number. The secretary of state shall not issue a letter combination or permit the use of a symbol which might carry a connotation offensive to good taste and decency … . Special organization plates shall not be a duplication of another registration plate.
       (3) In order to qualify its members to receive special organization plates, an organization shall meet all of the following criteria:
       (a) Be a nonprofit fraternal or public service organization.
       (c) Have a recognizable state, national, or international symbol or emblem of the organization.
       (e) Not practice or influence others to practice any form of discrimination prohibited by the Elliott-Larsen civil rights act,  1976 PA 453, MCL 37.2101 to 37.2804.

    Personalized plates

    Sec. 257.803b. amended.   Personalized registration plate; number; use; letters and numbers; offensive connotation; material; duplication prohibited; submission of application; payment, disposition, and use of service fee; expiration date; letters and numbers given to different person in subsequent year; other sequence of letters and numbers; temporary permit.

       Sec. 803b. (1) [Effective Jan. 1, 2006]…Personalized plates shall bear letters and numbers as the secretary of state prescribes. The secretary of state shall not issue a letter combination which might carry a connotation offensive to good taste and decency.

    Minnesota

    Specialty plates

    Minnesota Statutes

    168.1293 Special license plates; authorization; discontinuance.
    Subdivision 1. Definition. For purposes of this section and section 168.1297, "special license plate" means a license plate that is authorized by law to have wording and graphics that differ from a Minnesota passenger vehicle license plate.
    Subd. 3. Design; redesign. (a) If the special license plate sought by the requester is approved by law, the requester shall submit the proposed design for the plate to the department as soon as practicable, but not later than 120 days after the effective date of the law authorizing issuance of the plate. The department is responsible for selecting the final design for the special license plate.

    Personalized plates

    168.12 License plates.
    Subd. 2a. Personalized plates; rules. (a) …In lieu of the numbers assigned as provided in subdivision 1, personalized license plates must have imprinted on them a series of not more than seven numbers and letters in any combination. When an applicant has once obtained personalized plates…The commissioner of public safety shall adopt rules in the manner provided by chapter 14, regulating the issuance and transfer of personalized license plates. No words or combination of letters placed on personalized license plates may be used for commercial advertising, be of an obscene, indecent, or immoral nature, or be of a nature that would offend public morals or decency. The call signals or letters of a radio or television station are not commercial advertising for the purposes of this subdivision.

    Mississippi

    Specialty plates

    Organizations or other entities must have legislative authorization before a new distinctive license plate will be issued in accordance with Mississippi Code Sec. 27-19-44. Special license tags or plates.

    Personalized plates

    Mississippi Code

    Sec. 27-19-48. Personalized license tag; additional fee.

    (1) … No combination of letters or numbers which comprise words or expressions that are considered obscene, slandering, insulting or vulgar in ordinary usage shall be permitted, with the Chairman of the State Tax Commission having the responsibility of making this determination.

    Missouri

    Specialty plates

    Missouri Statutes

    CHAPTER 301.  REGISTRATION AND LICENSING OF MOTOR VEHICLES. 
    ADDITIONAL SPECIAL LICENSE PLATES
    Sec. 301.3150. Procedure for approval, exceptions — transfer of moneys collected.
       7. The department of revenue shall submit for approval all applications for the development of specialty plates to the joint committee on transportation oversight during a regular session of the general assembly for approval.
       8. If the specialty license plate requested by an organization is approved by the joint committee on transportation oversight, the organization shall submit the proposed art design for the specialty license plate to the department as soon as practicable, but no later than sixty days after the approval of the specialty license plate. If the specialty license plate requested by the organization is not approved by the joint committee on transportation oversight, ninety-seven percent of the application fee shall be refunded to the requesting organization.

    Personalized plates

    Sec. 301.144. Personalized license plates, appearance, fees — new plates every three years without charge — obscene or offensive plates prohibited — amateur radio operators, plates, how marked — repossessed vehicles, placards — retired U.S. military plates, how marked.
      3. No personalized license plates shall be issued containing any letters, numbers or combination of letters and numbers which are obscene, profane, patently offensive or contemptuous of a racial or ethnic group, or offensive to good taste or decency, or would present an unreasonable danger to the health or safety of the applicant, of other users of streets and highways, or of the public in any location where the vehicle with such a plate may be found.

    Missouri Code of State Regulations

    10-23.185 Obscene License Plates
       (1) Language or symbols which are obscene or profane are not protected by the United States or Missouri Constitution. The language or symbols shall not be allowed on any personalized motor vehicle license plate issued under the provisions of section 301.144, RSMo. In determining whether or not requests for personalized motor vehicle license plates contain language or symbols which are obscene or profane, the Department of Revenue will use the standards in section (2).
      (2) The following terms, as used in this rule, shall be defined as follows:
         (A) Obscene — Language or symbols which represent or describe ultimate excretory functions or sexual acts in a patently offensive manner or make lewd reference to the male or female sexual organs and appeal to the prurient interests of the average person applying contemporary community standards (see Miller v. California, 413 U.S. 15, 93 S.Ct. 2607 (1973)). Prurient interests, as used in this definition, shall mean shameful or morbid interest in nudity, sex or excretion that goes substantially beyond customary limits or candor in description or representation of these matters (see Haldeman v. United States, C.A. Kan., 340 F2d 59 (10th Cir., 1965)); and
         (B) Profane — Language or symbols which are irreverent or contemptuous of things regarded as sacred or that imply divine condemnation (see Baker v. State, 16 Ariz. App. 463, 494 P2d, 68 (1972) and Duncan v. United States, 48 F2d 128 (9th Cir., 1931)).
      (3) No motor vehicle license plate will be issued by the Department of Revenue if the language or symbols on the plate are obscene or profane. In order to make this determination, the Department of Revenue will look to the way the average person applying contemporary community standards would view the license plate. Factors which the Department of Revenue may consider in this regard include, but are not limited to:
       (A) An explanation by the registrant as to why s/he chose particular language or symbols to be on his/her personalized motor vehicle license plate;
       (B) Complaints from the public regarding a license plate with the same letters, numbers or symbols as that requested or held by the registrant;
       (C) Complaints from the public regarding a license plate with similar letters, numbers or symbols as that requested or held by the registrant;
       (D) Dictionary definitions of the language or symbols requested by the registrant; and
       (E) Information from other states regarding motor vehicle plates which have not been issued by them because they found them to be obscene or profane.
      (4) The Department of Revenue shall recall any personalized motor vehicle license plate which it has already issued if it determines that a plate is obscene or profane.

    AUTHORITY: section 301.144, RSMo (Cum. Supp. 1991).

    Montana

    Specialty plates

    Montana Code

    61-3-475  Qualifications and approval of organization as sponsor.
    (1)  To qualify as a sponsor of a generic specialty license plate, an organization shall:
       (e)  submit to the department proof that is acceptable to the department that:
          (i)  the organization is a nonprofit organization as demonstrated in its charter or bylaws or by an internal revenue service ruling. The department may request copies of an internal revenue service ruling to verify an organization's nonprofit status.
          (ii)  the primary purpose of the organization, except for an organization of military service veterans, is service to the community through specific programs that promote improving public health, education, or general welfare;
          (iii)  the organization's name, identifying phrase, or graphic that will be placed on the generic specialty license plate does not:
    (A)  invoke connotations offensive to good taste and decency;
    (B)  promote, advertise, or endorse a product, brand, or service provided for sale;
    (C)  infringe or otherwise violate a trademark, trade name, service mark, copyright, or other proprietary or property right; or
    (D)  obscure the generic specialty license plate letters or numbers that the department assigns as provided in 61-3-474(1)(c);
          (iv)  the organization's headquarters or base of operations is in this state or, if the organization is a chapter or branch of an international, national, or regional organization, the chapter or branch is in good standing and has authorization in writing from the parent organization to use the name and graphic of the parent organization; and
          (v)  the organization has an active telephone number listed under its name in at least one published Montana directory.

    Personalized plates

    61-3-405  Application for personalized plates.
       An applicant for personalized license plates or renewal of such plates in subsequent years pursuant to 61-3-401 through 61-3-406 shall file an application therefor in the form and by the date the department requires, indicating thereon the combination of letters or numbers, or both, requested as a registration number. There shall be no duplication of registration numbers, and the department may refuse to issue any combination of letters or numbers, or both, that may carry connotations offensive to good taste and decency or which are misleading or a duplication of license plates provided for elsewhere in this title.

    Nebraska
    Nebraska does not allow the issuance of specialty plates to organizations. Several bills have come before the Legislature but none has passed.

    Personalized plates

    Nebraska Statutes

    Sec. 60-311.11. Message plates; conditions.
    (2) The following conditions apply to all personalized message license plates:
    (e) The characters in the order used shall not express, connote, or imply any obscene or objectionable words or abbreviations.
    (3) The Department of Motor Vehicles shall have sole authority to determine if the conditions prescribed in subsection (2) of this section have been met.

    Nevada
    Nevada law does not distinguish between specialty and personalized license plates.

    Nevada Statutes

    482.367004. Commission on Special License Plates: Creation; membership; terms; vacancies; service without salary or compensation; administrative support; duties.
    5. The Commission shall approve or disapprove:
       (a) Applications for the design, preparation and issuance of special license plates that are submitted to the Department pursuant to subsection 1 of NRS 482.367002; and
       (b) The issuance by the Department of special license plates that have been designed and prepared pursuant to NRS 482.367002.

       In determining whether to approve such an application or issuance, the Commission shall consider, without limitation, whether it would be appropriate and feasible for the Department to, as applicable, design, prepare or issue the particular special license plate.

    482.3667.  Preparation for issuance; procedures for application and issuance; persons qualified for issuance; period of validity; renewal; priority; powers and duties of Department.
       5. The Department may limit by regulation the number of letters and numbers used and prohibit the use of inappropriate letters or combinations of letters and numbers.

    Nevada Administrative Code

    482.320 Nomenclature used.
    6. No combination of letters, numbers or spaces is allowed if it:
         (a) Creates confusion with any combination on other license plates.
         (b) Expresses contempt, ridicule or superiority of:
             (1) Race;
             (2) Ethnic heritage;
             (3) Religion;
             (4) Gender; or
             (5) Political affiliation.
         (c) Contains any connotation that is sexual, vulgar, derogatory, profane or obscene.
         (d) Contains a direct or indirect reference to a:
             (1) Drug or drug paraphernalia; or
             (2) Gang.
         (e) Makes a defamatory reference to a person or group.
         (f) Is determined by the department to be inappropriate.

    New Hampshire
    The New Hampshire Special License Plate Program for organizational license plates was repealed in 1996, effective 1999.

    Personalized plates

    New Hampshire Revised Statutes

    Sec. 261:89. Vanity Number Plates
       The director is hereby authorized to design and to issue, under such rules as he shall deem appropriate, vanity number plates to be used on motor vehicles in lieu of other number plates. Such number plates shall be of such design and shall bear such letters or letters and numbers as the director shall prescribe, but there shall be no duplication of identification …

    New Hampshire Code of Administrative Rules
     Department of Safety.

    Saf-C 514.61 Vanity or Initial Registration Plate.
    (c) A vanity or initial registration plate shall:
        (1) Not have the identical or similar combination of characters as any other    classification;
        (2) Not be capable of an obscene interpretation;
        (3) Not be ethnically, racially or which a reasonable person would find offensive to good taste;
        (4) Not have more than 7 characters;
        (5) Not have more than one ampersand, numeral, plus sign, or minus sign in sequence;
        (6) Not have any characters other than ampersands, numerals, plus signs, minus signs, or letters;
        (7) Not have only numerals or only numerals and ampersands, plus signs, or minus signs; and
        (8) Not have characters or combinations of characters which may cause difficulty of distinction or identification.
    (d) The director shall recall any vanity or initial registration plate that has been issued which does not conform with the requirements of (c) above.

    New Jersey

    Specialty plates

    New Jersey Statutes

    Sec. 39:3-27.36. Conditions for issuance
       Special organization vehicle registration plates shall be issued subject to the following conditions:
      b. The representative shall, upon application on behalf of any member, provide a copy of the charter of the organization to the division which shall indicate the organization's lawful purpose and shall also provide proof of its nonprofit status.
       d. The representative also shall submit to the division the name or initials the organization wishes to be placed at the bottom of the plate and a logotype. The use and arrangement of the name, initials, or logotype of the organization on the registration plates shall be in the sole discretion of the director.

    Sec. 39:3-27.37. Director as final authority
       The director shall have the authority to make the final decision as to whether or not an organization is approved for the issuance of special organization vehicle registration plates to its members notwithstanding the organization's compliance with section 2 of P.L.1987, c. 374 (C. 39:3-27.36).

    New Jersey Administrative Code

    SUBCHAPTER 39. Special Registration Plates for Non-Profit Organizations.
    Sec. 13:20-39.3 Qualifications for organization approval; final decision; right to suspend approval
       (a) An organization seeking approval from the Division pursuant to this subchapter to have special motor vehicle registration plates prepared for its members in good standing who wish to apply for them shall:
      3. Be a non-profit organization; and
      4. Receive written approval from the Director as qualifying for special motor vehicle registration plates for its members in good standing who apply for same.
         (b) The Director shall render the final decision as to whether or not an organization is approved for the issuance of special motor vehicle registration plates for its members pursuant to this subchapter in accordance with N.J.S.A. 39:3-27.37.
         (c) The Director, in his or her discretion, may suspend approval of any organization which had previously been granted permission to obtain special motor vehicle registration plates on behalf of its members pursuant to this subchapter in accordance with N.J.S.A. 39:3-27.38.

    Sec. 13:20-39.8 Plate design
       (a) An organization, through its designated organization liaison, shall submit to the Division a special motor vehicle registration plate prototype design which indicates the name or initials that the organization wishes to appear at the bottom of the special motor vehicle registration plate and the logotype, if any, that the organization wishes to appear on the special motor vehicle registration plate.
       (b) The Director shall make the final determination pursuant to this subchapter as to:
          1. The use, arrangement and size of an approved organization's name on the special motor vehicle registration plates;
          2. Any initials that are to appear at the bottom of the special motor vehicle registration plates; and
          3. The use, arrangement and size of an approved organization's desired logotype on the special motor vehicle registration plates.
       (c) An approved organization will be notified whether its plate design has been approved through a letter from the Director to the organization liaison.

    Personalized plates

    New Jersey Statutes

    Sec. 39:3-33.3. Special identifying marks; issuance of plates
      The Director of the Division of Motor Vehicles is hereby authorized to issue, upon application, registration plates of a particular identifying mark or marks to be displayed as provided in section 39:3-33 of the Revised Statutes, composed of such combination of letters and figures, in accordance with the identification system as may be requested in such application provided that the particular identifying mark so requested is not then issued to and held by some other person or otherwise reserved by the director.

    New Jersey Administrative Code

    SUBCHAPTER 34. Identifying Marks.
    Sec. 13:20-34.1 Definitions
       The following words and terms, when used in this Subchapter shall have the following meanings unless the context clearly indicates otherwise.

    "Particular identifying mark or marks" mean motor vehicle license plates having inscribed thereon motor vehicle registration numbers comprised of combinations of letters or numbers, or both, requested by the registrants.

    Sec. 13:20-34.3 Registration numbers excluded
       (a) The following registration numbers shall be excluded from issuance as "particular identifying marks" and, where so indicated, shall be used for the purpose specified:
     35. Any combination of alphabetic characters or numbers, or both, that may carry connotations offensive to good taste and decency.

    Case

    Children First Found., Inc. v. Legreide, Civil Action # 04-2137(D.N.J. 2005)
    In December 2003, the nonprofit organization Children First Foundation applied for a New Jersey specialty license plate that included the words “Choose Life.” The chief administrator of the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission at the time, Diane Legreide, denied the application, claiming that the design included an impermissible advocacy statement. CFF resubmitted its application, removed the “Choose Life” message and, in its place, included its legally registered name, NJCHOOSELIFE.ORG. This design was denied for the same reason. CFF filed suit on May 4, 2004, claiming a violation of its First Amendment rights. Legreide and other state officials filed a motion to dismiss the case or stay the action. That motion was denied on March 31, 2005. Legreide requested a reargument claiming the court was incorrect in dismissing its earlier motion. The court granted the motion for a reargument but denied the request for a stay in the action. On Nov. 17, 2005, the U.S. District Court for the state of New Jersey heard the reargument requested by the New Jersey MVC. The court granted a reconsideration of the March 31 decision and again denied a stay of the action initiated by CCF and denied a request to have the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals look at the case. The case is pending.

    New Mexico

    Specialty plates

    Statutes of New Mexico

    Sec. 66-3-424.  Standardized special registration plates with logos.
    A. Standardized special registration plates with logos may be authorized by statute to show state support for worthy public purposes. The authorizing statute shall provide for collection of fees that, at a minimum, will cover the costs to the division of development, manufacture and issuance of the special registration plates and logos.
    C. Special registration logos, except for the standard dimension specified in Paragraph (3) of Subsection B of this section, shall be left to the design discretion of the division, in consultation with the public purpose interest group that requests the special registration plate.

    Personalized plates

    Sec. 66-3-15.  Special registration plates; procedures; fee
       A. The division shall establish and issue special registration plates, including motorcycle prestige registration plates and shall establish and promulgate procedures for applications for and issuance of special registration plates.

    New Mexico Administrative Code

    Sec. 18.19.3.62.  PRESTIGE PLATES — CONTENT OF SET — REVIEW OF SET BY DIVISION
       A. Except as otherwise provided in 18.19.3.62 NMAC, a set may be composed of any permissible characters in any order as long as the set is consistent with the requirements of 18.19.3.61 NMAC. Prior to approval for the establishment and issuance of the prestige plate, the division will review the set.
       B. No prestige plate will be established or approved for issuance which displays a set that:
       (1) duplicates that of any existing registration plate or registration plate or set for which an application is in process;
       (2) the division finds to be derogatory or obscene; or
       (3) falsely states or implies that the vehicle or the driver represents the authority of a governmental agency or official.

    New York
    Currently there is a moratorium on issuing new custom license plates for organizations. The New York Legislature is discussing a new process. The old process was to have the sponsoring organization get approval from the Legislature.

    Personalized plates

    New York Consolidated Laws

    NY CLS Vehicle & Traffic laws.
    Sec. 404.  Issuance of special number plates
       1. The commissioner may issue special number plates to applicants therefor in the same manner as other number plates are issued pursuant to this article … . Application for special number plates shall be made in accordance with regulations promulgated by the commissioner with respect to issuance of such number plates.

    New York Codes, Rules and Regulations
     
    PART 16. Special Number Plates
    Sec. 16.5  Restrictions
       No plate shall be issued under this Part which:
         (e) is, in the discretion of the commissioner, obscene, lewd, lascivious, derogatory to a particular ethnic or other group, or patently offensive; or
         (f) would lead one to believe that the owner of a particular vehicle is connected with or operating in an official capacity for a governmental organization or function.

    Cases
    Children First Foundation v. Martinez, 05-0567-cv, (2nd Cir. 2006)
    In August 2004, the Children First Foundation filed a lawsuit against Raymond P. Martinez and other New York state officials claiming violations of its constitutional right based upon the denial of its application for a custom license plate which included the words “Choose Life.” The defendants, Martinez and the other New York state officials, filed a motion to dismiss which was denied in January 2005. They then filed a motion to reconsider which was denied in March 2005. The decisions were appealed to the 2nd Circuit.

    The defendants argued that denial of the plate was permissible under the government-speech doctrine, which holds that the government has its own First Amendment rights to advance its ideas and messages. They argued that New York’s custom-plate program (since discontinued) was government speech, and that as such the government could discriminate as to viewpoint. The 2nd Circuit disagreed and held that custom license plates involved some private speech; therefore, the government could not discriminate by viewpoint. The 2nd Circuit denied the motion to dismiss on March 6, 2006.

    North Carolina
    Special organizations and causes must get approval through the North Carolina Legislature before a special plate can be issued.

    Personalized plates

    North Carolina General Statutes

    Sec. 20-79.4. Special registration plates.

    (32) Personalized. — Issuable to the registered owner of a motor vehicle. The plate will bear the letters or letters and numbers requested by the owner. The Division may refuse to issue a plate with a letter combination that is offensive to good taste and decency. The Division may not issue a plate that duplicates another plate.

    North Dakota

    Specialty plates

    North Dakota Century Code

    39-04-10.13.  Public or nonprofit organization number plate.
       1. The director shall develop an organization number plate program for distinctive number plates for qualifying public and for nonprofit organizations recognized by the internal revenue service as tax exempt under 26 U.S.C. 501(c)(3) … The organization may submit a design for the distinctive number plate for approval by the director. Upon approval by the director and proper application … the director shall include the number plate in the organization number plate program.
       2. The following organizations do not qualify for an organization number plate: out-of-state colleges and universities; groups within high schools, junior colleges, universities, and technical schools, including individual boosters, athletic boosters, and similar groups; unions; political organizations; religious organizations; groups that promote racial or social disharmony; and public offices.

    Personalized plates

    39-04-10.3. Personalized plates.
    The department may, in its discretion, provide special license plates …

    Ohio

    Specialty plates

    Ohio Code

    Sec. 4503.78. Implementation date for new special plates; reestablishment of terminated program
       (A) Except as may otherwise be specifically provided by law, after the effective date of this section, the registrar of motor vehicles shall not be required to implement any legislation that creates a license plate and provides for its issuance until the registrar receives written statements from not less than one thousand persons, indicating that they intend to apply for and obtain such license plates for their motor vehicles. The registrar may require such statements to be made on a form the registrar provides.

    (The procedure for issuing a special plate in Ohio is not established by statute. However, according to Ohio BMV officials, there is a set of criteria which must be met:)

    Before the Bureau of Motor Vehicles can create a special logo plate, an organization would have to meet the following criterion: 1) The organization must collect 1000 signatures on petitions from Ohio residents stating that they will purchase the plate should one be created. The original petitions with the signatures must be submitted to the BMV. 2) The agent for the organization must contact a State Representative or Senator who is willing to sponsor a bill to be introduced into the General Assembly for your plate. The bill must pass the General Assembly and be signed by the Governor before we can manufacture the plate. 3) The organization must also submit to the BMV an application, letter authorizing the BMV to print the organization's logo, and an electronic file of the artwork for the logo in a specified format.

    Personalized plates

    (The standards for vanity plates are also not established by statute but rather are the product of a settlement with the ACLU. A Special License Plate Screening Committee meets to review and vote on proposed special license plates using the following guidelines.)

    Special License Plate Screening Guidelines. 1) If the requested license plate contains words, combinations and/or phrases (in any language and when read either frontward or backward) that are profane (that is, swearwords or expletives), obscene, sexually explicit, or scatological: or 2) Contains words, combinations, and/or phrases (in any language and when read either frontward or backward) that are so offensive that they could reasonably be expected to provoke a violent response from viewers without additional comment; or 3) Contains words, combinations and/or phrases (in any language and when read either frontward or backward) that advocate immediate lawlessness or advocate lawless activities.

    Case

    NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio v. Taft, Case No. 1:05 CV 1064 (N.D. Ohio, 2005)
    NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio and others filed suit against Ohio Gov. Bob Taft and other state officials challenging an Ohio statute that made available “Choose Life” license plates. The pro-choice group claimed the statute violated the First and 14th amendments. The state officials filed a motion to dismiss the case. “Defendants filed their Motion to Dismiss arguing that the Tax Injunction Act, 28 U.S.C. Sec. 1341 (2000) ("the TIA"), divests this Court of subject matter jurisdiction in this case because the charges for the "Choose Life" plates constitute a tax, rather than a fee. The TIA prohibits a district court from enjoining the assessment, levy or collection of any tax under State law when State courts offer a ‘plain, speedy and efficient remedy.’ 28 U.S.C. Sec. 1341.” The court agreed with the State of Ohio defendants and dismissed the case.

    Oklahoma

    Specialty plates

    Oklahoma Statutes

    Sec. 1135.7.  Authorization to design and issue special license plates
        A. Beginning January 1, 2006, the Oklahoma Tax Commission is authorized to design and issue special license plates to any person that applies to the Tax Commission for the creation of a special license plate and meets the minimum standards and qualifications specified in this section.
        B. If the following standards and guidelines are satisfied, the Tax Commission shall issue a special license plate to the person making application for the special license plate:
        1. The license plate is to:
            a. show membership in or affiliation with an organization, or
            b. demonstrate support for an organization, group or cause;
        2. The license plate does not advertise or endorse a product, brand, or service that is provided for sale;
        3. The license plate does not promote any philosophy based on prejudice or that is contrary to state civil rights laws; and
        4. Five hundred prepaid applications for the special license plate are received by the Tax Commission.
    H. As used in this section, "person" includes an individual, group, organization or not-for-profit corporation that is recognized as such by the Internal Revenue Service.
    Sec. 1135.5.  Special license plates — Demonstration of support and financial assistance to specific causes.
        A. The Oklahoma Tax Commission is hereby authorized to design and issue appropriate official special license plates to persons wishing to demonstrate support and provide financial assistance as provided by this section.

    Personalized plates

    Sec. 1135.4.  Personalized license plates
        A. The Oklahoma Tax Commission is hereby authorized to design and issue personalized license plates. The personalized license plates shall be issued on a staggered system except for vintage decals.

    Oklahoma Administrative Code

    710:60-3-150. Special license plates, general provisions
    (d) Non-offensive content policy. No special license plate will be issued which may be offensive to the general public.

    Oregon

    Specialty plates

    Oregon Statutes

    805.205. Issuance of special plates for certain groups; rules; surcharge; disposition of moneys.
       (1) The Department of Transportation by rule shall provide for issuance of registration plates described in subsection (3) of this section for nonprofit groups meeting the qualifications for tax exempt status under section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, for institutions of higher education and for veterans' organizations … . Plates issued under this section may not contain expressions of political opinion or religious belief. Rules adopted under this section shall include, but need not be limited to, rules that:
    (a) Describe general qualifications to be met by any group in order to be eligible for plates issued under this section.
    (b) Specify circumstances under which the department may cease to issue plates for any particular group.

    Personalized plates

    805.240. Customized plates; fee.
       The Department of Transportation is authorized to issue customized registration plates upon the request of vehicle owners.

    Oregon Administrative Rules

    735-046-0010 Custom Plates — Application and Standards.
    (7) DMV shall not approve a custom plate choice, including plate choices that would do so by means of foreign or slang words or phrases, by use of phonetic, numeric or reverse spelling, or by being viewed in mirror image, that:
       (a) Would have the effect of alarming, threatening, offending or misleading a reasonable person. Such choices may include, but are not limited to, combinations of letters, numbers or both that:
         (A) Refer to intimate bodily parts or to sexual or excretory acts or functions;
         (B) Refer in an alarming or offensive manner to a person or class of persons on the basis or race, color, gender, ethnic heritage, national origin, or other characteristic;
         (C) Suggest that the vehicle to which the custom plate is issued is an official vehicle of a public agency or official, when it is in fact not such a vehicle; and/or
         (D) Refer to illegal acts.
       (b) Refers to alcoholic beverages, or controlled substances or paraphernalia used in the consumption thereof by combinations of letters, numbers or both.
    (8) DMV may use any reliable lexicological source to determine the meaning of any word, symbol or phrase.
    (9) When reviewing a plate choice for approval, DMV need not consider the applicant's subjective intent or declared meaning.

    Pennsylvania

    Specialty and personalized plates

    Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes

    Sec. 1341.  Special registration plates generally
      Upon request by the applicant, the department may issue registration plates consisting of any combination of numbers, letters or numbers and letters. These special plates may be issued for special groups or for special purposes and bear an appropriate designation … . The department may refuse any combination of letters and numbers for cause and shall adopt reasonable rules and regulations for the issuance of the plates and for carrying out the provisions of this section.

    Pennsylvania Administrative Code

    67 Pa. Code Sec. 49.3. Personal registration plates
      (b) Limitations and content. Personal registration plates shall conform with the following:
    (1) A personal registration plate may not contain a combination of letters or numbers, or both, which, in the judgment of the Department, has connotations offensive to good taste and decency or would be misleading. The Department reserves the right to recall a personal registration plate which it later determines to be offensive or misleading.

    Rhode Island

    Specialty plates

    Organizations must go through the Legislature to get authorization for the issuance of a new plate.

    Personalized plates

    General Laws of Rhode Island

    Sec. 31-3-17.1. Courtesy plates
       The administrator of the division of motor vehicles shall design and issue under regulations that he or she deems appropriate special courtesy registration plates … in lieu of other number plates. Special plates shall be of such design and shall bear such letters or combinations of letters and numbers as the administrator of the division of motor vehicles shall prescribe … and provided further, that there shall be no duplication of identification and the administrator of the division of motor vehicles shall in his or her discretion refuse to issue any letter or combination of letters and numbers which might carry connotations offensive to good taste and decency.

    South Carolina

    Specialty plates

    South Carolina Code of Laws

    Sec. 56-3-8000. Non-profit organization license plates.
    (H) The department may alter, modify, or refuse to produce any special license plate that it deems offensive or fails to meet community standards. If the department alters, modifies, or refuses to produce a special license plate, the organization or individual applying for the license plate may appeal the department's decision to a special joint legislative committee.

    Personalized plates

    Sec. 56-3-2010. Issuance of personalized license plates authorized.
       (A) The department shall provide, upon proper application being made, special personalized motor vehicle license plates to the owner of a private passenger motor vehicle and motorcycles. The personalized plates must be of the design and bear the letters and numerals the department prescribes ... . The department, in its discretion, may refuse the issue of letter combinations which may carry connotations offensive to good taste and decency and may not assign to a person not holding the relevant office letters or numerals denoting the holder to have a public office.

    Case

    Planned Parenthood of S.C., Inc. v. Rose, 361 F.3d 786, 787 (4th Cir., 2004)
    “South Carolina has a statute that authorizes a specialty license plate imprinted with the words ‘Choose Life.’ A comparable plate with a pro-choice message is not available. Planned Parenthood of South Carolina, Inc. (PPSC) and Renee Carter have sued three South Carolina officials on First Amendment grounds, claiming that the statute authorizing the Choose Life plate amounts to viewpoint discrimination by the State. The district court agreed and declared the statute unconstitutional. We affirm in three opinions, with Judge Luttig and Judge Gregory each writing separately to concur in the judgment.”

    South Dakota

    Specialty plates

    South Dakota Statutes

    Sec. 32-5-137.  Specialty plates — Organizational decals — Eligibility
       To qualify for an organizational decal, an organization shall be a nonprofit corporation, or a group of nonprofit corporations with a common purpose, on file with the secretary of state's office and shall have a minimum of two hundred members and shall meet the following requirements:
       (1) The primary activity or interest of the organization or group of organizations serves the community, contributes to the welfare of others, and is not offensive or discriminatory in its purpose, nature, activity, or name;
       (2) The name and purpose of the organization or group of organizations does not promote any specific product or brand name that is provided for sale; and
       (3) The decal of the organization or group of organizations does not promote a specific religion, faith, or anti-religious belief.

    Personalized plates

    Sec. 32-5-89.2.  Special personalized license plates — Connotations offensive to good taste and decency may be rejected
       Any owner of a motor vehicle, including a motorcycle, who is a resident of this state, and who has complied with all laws of this state in obtaining regular license plates for a motor vehicle, including a motorcycle, may have the license plates replaced by special personalized license plates which shall conform in size and color combinations as may be provided by the secretary. No personalized license plate for a motor vehicle other than a motorcycle may contain more than seven letters nor less than two letters. No personalized license plate for a motorcycle may contain more than six letters nor less than two letters. There may be no duplication of the personalized license plates issued by the secretary. The secretary may refuse to issue any letter combination which carries connotations offensive to good taste and decency.

    Tennessee

    Specialty and personalized plates

    Tennessee Code Annotated

    PART 2.  SPECIAL LICENSE PLATES
    55-4-201.  Issuance — Applicability of part — Requirements — Plates deemed obsolete due to inactivity
       (a) (1)  All cultural, specialty earmarked and new specialty earmarked motor vehicle registration plates, memorial motor vehicle registration plates and special purpose motor vehicle registration plates now, or in the future, shall be issued and renewed pursuant to the provisions of this part.
       (b)  All plates issued pursuant to this part shall be issued and renewed subject to the following:
    (4)  A design which shall be approved by the commissioner.

    55-4-210.  Authorization; issuance.
    (d) (1)  The commissioner of safety shall not issue any license plate commemorating any practice which is contrary to the public policy of the State of Tennessee, nor shall the commissioner issue any license plate to any entity whose goals and objectives are contrary to the public policy of Tennessee.
       (2)  The commissioner shall refuse to issue any combination of letters, numbers or positions that may carry connotations offensive to good taste and decency or that are misleading.

    Cases

    ACLU of Tenn. v. Bredesen, 354 F. Supp. 2d 770, (M.D. Tenn. 2004)
    The ACLU of Tennessee, et al., filed suit against Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen and Tennessee Commissioner of Safety Fred Philips challenging the constitutionality of the Tennessee statute that authorizes the issue of a specialty license plate containing the words “Choose Life.” “Plaintiffs contend that the statute (and, alternatively, the entire specialty license plate program) infringes their First and Fourteenth Amendment rights through viewpoint discrimination and the unfettered discretion given to the Tennessee General Assembly.”

    The court found the statute unconstitutional because the State of Tennessee, discriminated, through this statute, on the basis of viewpoint. The court determined that messages placed on specialty plates are not government speech, but a mixture of private and government speech; thus the state cannot discriminate against a viewpoint. When the government speaks for itself and only itself (i.e., government speech) it may discriminate on a viewpoint basis; however, the court determined that when people choose to display the special plates on their vehicles they are participating in private speech.

    ACLU of Tennessee v. Bredesen, No.04-6393, (6th Cir. 2006)
    The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the finding of the district court in the earlier ACLU v. Bredesen case. The court, relying on a 2005 U.S. Supreme Court case, Johanns v. Livestock Marketing Association, 544 U.S. 550 (2005), found that the “Choose Life” specialty license plate is a “government-crafted message” that does not need to be viewpoint-neutral. In Johanns, the U.S. Supreme Court concluded that when the government determines an overarching message and retains the power to approve every word disseminated, the message is government speech. Using this reasoning, the 6th Circuit found the “Choose Life” specialty plate to constitute government speech; since the statute authorizing the creation of the plate determines the overarching message and the Tennessee Department of Safety has approval over every word on specialty plates. The court, again relying on the Johanns case, also ruled that people who display the special plates on their vehicles are private volunteers who are choosing to disseminate the government's speech and that no special forum of speech is created that requires viewpoint neutrality.

    Texas

    Specialty plates

    Texas Statutes and Codes

    Sec. 504.801.  Creation of New Specialty License Plates by the Department.
        (a) The department may create new specialty license plates on its own initiative or
    on receipt of an application from a potential sponsor.
        (c) The department shall design each new specialty license plate in consultation with the sponsor, if any, that applied for creation of that specialty license plate. The department may refuse to create a new specialty license plate if the design might be offensive to any member of the public, if the nominated state agency does not consent to receipt of the funds derived from issuance of the license plate, if the uses identified for those funds might violate a statute or constitutional provision, or for any other reason established by rule.
       (i) The sponsor of a new specialty plate may not be a for-profit enterprise.

    Personalized plates

    Sec. 504.103.  Design and Alphanumeric Pattern [Of Personalized Plates]
       The department has sole control over the design, typeface, color, and alphanumeric pattern for a personalized license plate.

    Texas Administrative Code
    Sec. 17.28. Specialty License Plates, Symbols, Tabs, and Other Devices.
    (C) Personalized plates not approved. A personalized license plate number will not be approved by the director if the number:
       (i) conflicts with the department's current or proposed regular license plate   numbering system;
       (ii) is determined to be obscene or objectionable by the director; or
       (iii) is currently issued to another owner.

    Utah

    Specialty plates

    Utah Code

    Sec. 41-1a-418.  Authorized special group license plates.
    (3) (a) A sponsoring organization that qualifies for tax-exempt status under Internal Revenue Code Section 501(c)(3) may request the commission to authorize a new type of special group license plate for the sponsoring organization. The sponsoring organization shall:
          (i) collect a minimum of 200 applications; and
          (ii) pay a start-up fee established under Section 63-38-3.2 …
       (b) If the provisions of Subsection (3)(a) are met, the commission shall approve the request and the division shall:
          (i) design a license plate in accordance with Section 41-1a-419; and

    Personalized plates

    Sec. 41-1a-419.  Plate design — Vintage vehicle certification and registration — Personalized special group license plates — Rulemaking
       (1) (a) The design and maximum number of numerals or characters on special group license plates shall be determined by the division in accordance with the requirements under Subsection (1)(b).
       (b) Each special group license plate shall display:
          (i) the word Utah;
          (ii) the name or identifying slogan of the special group;
          (iii) a symbol decal not exceeding two positions in size representing the special group; and
          (iv) the combination of letters, numbers, or both uniquely identifying the registered vehicle.
    (2) (a) The division shall, after consultation with a representative designated by the special group, specify the word or words comprising the special group name and the symbol decal to be displayed upon the special group license plates.

    Sec. 41-1a-411.  Application for personalized plates — Refusal authorized
       (1) An applicant for personalized license plates or renewal of the plates shall file an application for the plates in the form and by the date the division requires, indicating the combination of letters, numbers, or both requested as a registration number.
       (2) The division may refuse to issue any combination of letters, numbers, or both that may carry connotations offensive to good taste and decency or that would be misleading.

    Utah Administrative Code

    R873-22M-34.  Rule for Denial of Personalized Plate Requests Pursuant to Utah Code Ann. Sections 41-1a-104 and 41-1a-411.
       A. The personalized plate is a non-public forum. Nothing in the issuance of a personalized plate creates a designated or limited public forum. The presence of a personalized plate on a vehicle does not make the plate a traditional public forum.
       B. Pursuant to Section 41-1a-411(2), the division may not issue personalized license plates in the following formats:
         1. Combination of letters, words, or numbers with any connotation that is vulgar, derogatory, profane, or obscene.
         2. Combinations of letters, words, or numbers that connote breasts, genitalia, pubic area, buttocks, or relate to sexual and eliminatory functions. Additionally, "69" formats are prohibited unless used in a combination with the vehicle make, for example, "69 CHEV."
         3. Combinations of letters, words, or numbers that connote the substance, paraphernalia, sale, user, purveyor of, or physiological state produced by any illicit drug, narcotic, or intoxicant.
         4. Combinations of letters, words, or numbers that express contempt, ridicule, or superiority of a race, religion, deity, ethnic heritage, gender, or political affiliation.
       D. The director shall review the format for connotations that may reasonably be detected through linguistic, numerical, or phonetic modes of communication. The review may include:
         1. translation from foreign languages;
         2. an upside down or reverse reading of the requested format;
         3. the use of references such as dictionaries or glossaries of slang, foreign language, or drug terms.
       E. The director shall consider the applicant's declared definition of the format, if provided.

    Vermont

    Specialty and personalized plates

    Vermont Statutes

    23 V.S.A. Sec. 304. Registration certificates; number plates.
       (b) The authority to issue special motor vehicle number plates or receive applications or petitions for special number plates for safety organizations and service organizations shall reside with the commissioner. Determination of compliance with the criteria contained in this subsection shall be within the discretion of the commissioner … . The commissioner shall issue special number plates marked with initials, letters or combination of numerals and letters, in the following manner:
    (C) After consulting with representatives of the safety or service organization, the commissioner shall determine the design of the special plates, on the basis that the primary purpose of motor vehicle number plates is vehicle identification. An organization applying for a special plate under this subsection shall present the commissioner with a name and emblem that is not obscene, offensive or confusing to the general public and does not promote, advertise or endorse a product, brand or service provided for sale, or promote any specific religious belief or political party. The organization's name and emblem must not infringe or violate trademarks, trade names, service marks, copyrights or other proprietary or property rights and the organization must have the right to use the name and emblem.
       (d) Special number plates whether new or renewed shall be issued in any combination or succession of numerals and letters provided the total of the numbers and letters on any plate taken together does not exceed seven, and further provided the requested combination of letters and numerals does not duplicate or resemble a regular issue registration plate. The commissioner may adopt rules for the issuance of special number plates to ensure that all plates serve the primary purpose of vehicle identification. The commissioner may revoke any plate described in subdivisions (1) through (7) of this subsection and shall not issue special number plates with the following combination of letters or numbers:
       (1) Combinations of letters or numbers with any connotation, in any language, that is vulgar, derogatory, profane, racial epithets, scatological or obscene.
       (2) Combinations of letters or numbers that connote, in any language, breast, genitalia, pubic area, or buttocks or relate to sexual or eliminatory functions. Additionally, "69" formats are prohibited unless used in combination with the vehicle make, for example, "69 CHEV."
       (3) Combinations of letters or numbers that connote, in any language:
          (A) any illicit drug, narcotic, intoxicant, or related paraphernalia;
          (B) the sale, the user, or the purveyor of such substance;
          (C) the physiological state produced by such a substance.
       (4) Combinations of letters or numbers that refer, in any language, to a race, religion, color, deity, ethnic heritage, gender, sexual orientation, disability status, or political affiliation; provided, however, the commissioner shall not refuse a combination of letters or numbers that is a generally accepted reference to a race or ethnic heritage (for example, IRISH).
       (5) Combinations of letters or numbers that suggest, in any language, a government or governmental agency.
       (6) Combinations of letters or numbers that suggest, in any language, a privilege not given by law in this state.
       (7) Combinations of letters or numbers that form, in any language, a slang term, abbreviation, phonetic spelling or mirror image of a word described in subdivisions (1) through (6) of this subsection.

    Virginia

    Specialty plates

    Code of Virginia

    Sec. 46.2-725.  Special license plates, generally.
    D. For special license plates that generate revenues that are shared with entities other than the Department, hereinafter referred to as "revenue sharing special license plates," the General Assembly shall review all proposed revenue sharing special license plate authorizations to determine whether the revenues are to be shared with entities or organizations that (i) provide to the Commonwealth or its citizens a broad public service that is to be funded, in whole or in part, by the proposed revenue sharing special license plate authorization and (ii) are at least one of the following:
       1. A nonprofit corporation as defined in Sec. 501 (c) (3) of the United States Internal Revenue Code;
       2. An agency, board, commission, or other entity established or operated by the Commonwealth;
       3. A political subdivision of the Commonwealth; or
       4. An institution of higher education whose main campus is located in Virginia.

    Personalized plates

    According to a Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles representative, there is no statute or rule/regulations detailing what is inappropriate for a personalized license plate. However, the License Plate Application form used by the Virginia DMV does have a section that states:

    “The combination of characters used to personalize a license plate must not violate DMV's personalized plate policy. DMV reserves the right to refuse issuance of any combination of objectionable characters if they, in anyway, carry a connotation that may be reasonably seen by a person viewing a license plate as 1) profane, obscene, or vulgar in nature, 2) sexually explicit or graphic, 3) excretory related, 4) describing intimate body parts or genitals, 5) describing drug culture or use, 6) condoning or encouraging violence, 7) describing illegal activities or illegal substances, 8) socially, racially, ethnically offensive, or disparaging.”

    Washington

    Specialty plates

    Code of Washington

    Sec. 46.16.705. Special license plate review board — Created
       (1) The special license plate review board is created ...

    Sec. 46.16.725. Board — Powers and duties
       (2) The board must review and either approve or reject special license plate applications submitted by sponsoring organizations.
    Sec. 46.16.735. Special license plates — Sponsoring organization requirements
       (1) For an organization to qualify for a special license plate under the special license plate approval program created in RCW 46.16.705 through 46.16.765, the sponsoring organization must submit documentation in conjunction with the application to the department that verifies:
       (a) That the organization is a nonprofit organization, as defined in 26 U.S.C. Sec. 501(c)(3) … ; and
       (b) That the organization is located in Washington and has registered as a charitable organization with the secretary of state's office as required by law.
       (2) For a governmental body to qualify for a special license plate under the special license plate approval program created in RCW 46.16.705 through 46.16.765, a governmental body must be:
       (a) A political subdivision, including but not limited to any county, city, town, municipal corporation, or special purpose taxing district that has the express permission of the political subdivision's executive body to sponsor a special license plate;
       (b) A federally recognized tribal government that has received the approval of the executive body of that government to sponsor a special license plate;
       (c) A state agency that has received approval from the director of the agency or the department head; or
       (d) A community or technical college that has the express permission of the college's board of trustees to sponsor a special license plate.

    Personalized plates

    Sec. 46.16.600. Personalized license plates — Rules and regulations
       The director of licensing may establish such rules and regulations as may be necessary to carry out the purposes of RCW 46.16.560 through 46.16.595.

    Washington Administrative Code

    WAC 308-96A-550. Vehicle special collegiate license plates.
       (1) What are the criteria for establishing collegiate license plates? Application for license plate series from an institution of higher education under RCW 46.16.324 may be submitted to the special license plate review board through the process established in RCW 46.16.735 and 46.16.745. In addition the following criteria must be satisfied:
       (a) The plates will consist of numbers, letters, colors and a symbol or artwork approved by the department and/or the special license plate review board.
       (b) The numbers and letters combination may not exceed seven positions.
       (c) The plate series will not conflict with existing license plates.
       (d) The plate design must provide at least four positions to accommodate serial numbering.
       (e) The plate must not carry connotations offensive to good taste or decency, which may be misleading, vulgar in nature, a racial, ethnic, lifestyle or gender slur, related to illegal activities or substances, blasphemous, contrary to the department's mission to promote highway safety, or a duplication of other license plates provided in chapter 46.16 RCW.
       (f) The plate must be designed so that it is legible and clearly identifiable by law enforcement personnel as an official Washington state issued license plate. A collegiate license plate design may not be issued in combination with any other license plate configuration including special, personalized or exempt license plate(s).

    WAC 308-96A-065. Personalized license plates.
       (3) When may the department deny an application for or cancel personalized plates?
    (a) The department may deny an application for personalized license plates or cancel personalized license plates previously issued if it determines the plate configuration to be:
    (i) Offensive to good taste and decency;
    (ii) Potentially misleading;
    (iii) Vulgar, profane or sexually suggestive in nature;
    (iv) A racial, ethnic, lifestyle or gender slur;
    (v) Related to alcohol or to illegal activities or substances;
    (vi) Blasphemous;
    (vii) Derogatory;
    (viii) Slanderous;
    (ix) A duplication of license plate or decal numbers provided in chapter 46.09, 46.10 or 46.16 RCW; or
    (x) Contrary to the department's mission to promote highway safety.

    West Virginia
    All requests for special plates must be approved by the Legislature. If approved, the Legislature amends WV Code Sec.17A-3-14 with an additional subdivision delineating the criteria for the new license plate.

    Specialty and personalized plates

    West Virginia Code

    Sec. 17A-3-14 Registration plates generally; description of plates; issuance of special numbers and plates; registration fees; special application fees; exemptions; commissioner to promulgate forms; suspension and nonrenewal.
    (4) Specially arranged registration plates may be issued as follows:
          (A) Upon appropriate application, any owner of a motor vehicle subject to Class A registration, or a motorcycle subject to Class G registration, as defined by this article, may request that the division issue a registration plate bearing specially arranged letters or numbers with the maximum number of letters or numbers to be determined by the commissioner. The division shall attempt to comply with the request wherever possible.
    (9) The division may issue special registration plates to nonprofit charitable and educational organizations authorized under prior enactment of this subdivision as follows:
          (A) Approved nonprofit charitable and educational organizations previously authorized under the prior enactment of this subdivision may accept and collect applications for special registration plates from owners of Class A motor vehicles together with a special annual fee of fifteen dollars, which is in addition to all other fees required by this chapter.
           (D) The commissioner may not approve or authorize any additional nonprofit charitable and educational organizations to design or market special registration plates.

    Wisconsin

    Specialty plates

    Wisconsin Statutes

    341.14. Application for and issuance of special plates.
        The department shall issue special plates as specified in this section under the following circumstances:
    (6r)
    (a) In this subsection and s. 341.145 (1) (c) , "authorized special group" means a special group enumerated in par. (f) or designated by the department under par. (fm)
    (fm)
    1. In addition to the special groups specified under par. (f) , any group or organization may apply to the department for designation as an authorized special group. The department shall designate any group or organization that meets all of the following criteria as an authorized special group:
       a. The group or organization is not organized or operated for profit.
       b. The group or organization is not a political committee, as defined in s. 11.01 (4) , or a political group, as defined in s. 11.01 (10)
       c. The group or organization is not a church, a synagogue, a mosque or any organization, whether or not organized under ch.187 , that operates under a creed.
       d. The group or organization does not promote, practice or encourage hatred or any form of discrimination.
       e. The group or organization does not carry connotations offensive to good taste or decency, or that would be misleading, or in conflict with the enumeration or designation of any other authorized special group.

    Personalized plates

    341.145. Personalized registration plates.
    (7) The department may refuse to issue any combination of letters or numbers, or both, which may carry connotations offensive to good taste or decency, or which would be misleading, or in conflict with the issuance of any other registration plates. All decisions of the department with respect to personalized registration plate applications shall be final and not subject to judicial review under ch. 227.

    Wyoming

    Specialty plates

    Organizations or other entities must get approval from the Legislative before a new specialty license plate will be issued.

    Personalized plates

    Wyoming Statutes

    Sec. 31-2-208  Prestige license plates
    Excluding dealer and radio amateur license plates, upon payment of the regular registration fees prescribed by W.S. 31-3-101 and a prestige license plate fee and application to the department, the distinctive license plate number assigned to a vehicle may consist of such combination of alphabetical letters or Arabic numerals not currently held nor requested by any vehicle owner in the same county if approved by the department.

    Code of Wyoming Rules

    CHAPTER 004. PERSONALIZED PRESTIGE LICENSE PLATES.
    Section 4. Allowable Combinations.
        (a) Plates shall be issued using only capital letters and Arabic numerals. No other symbols or characters shall be allowed. Applicants may request a maximum of four letters or a combination of four letters and numerical digits. The letters and numbers shall be the same size as on regular license plates and shall be arranged in a straight horizontal line.
        (b) Any combination that spells, connotes, abbreviates, or otherwise stands for obscene, vulgar, indecent, or pruriently suggestive language shall not be allowed. The letters I, O, and Q shall not be used when all other characters in the combination are numbers. Nor shall the numeral 1 be substituted for the letter I nor the zero (0) substituted for the letter O. No four-character combinations shall contain more than two W's or two M's. No combinations consisting of a number or numbers followed by a single, double, or triple alphabetic suffix shall be issued as a personalized prestige license plate. Nor shall combinations consisting entirely of numbers be issued for prestige plates.


  • Related

    Justices spurn 'Choose Life' tag cases

    Supreme Court refuses to consider Louisiana, Tennessee laws allowing drivers to pay extra for anti-abortion license plates. 06.26.06

    Ill. officials must offer 'Choose Life' license plates
    Federal judge acknowledges concerns about motto but says he assumes request for specialty tags was prompted by sincere interest in promoting adoption. 01.23.07

    License plates

    Analysis/Commentary summary page
    View the latest analysis and commentary throughout the First Amendment Center Online.

    print this   Print


    Last system update: Friday, July 25, 2008 | 05:15:01
     SEARCH  MORE
    About this site
    About the First Amendment
    About the First Amendment Center
    Video/RSS/podcasts
    First Amendment programs
    State of the First Amendment
    reports

    First Reports
    Supreme Court
    Experts
    Columnists
    First Amendment publications
    First Amendment Center history
    Glossary
    Freedom Sings™
    Events
    First Amendment
    Schools

    Congressional Research Service reports
    Guest editorials
    FOI material
    The First Amendment
    Library

    Lesson plans
    freedomforum.org
    Newseum
    Contact us
    Privacy statement
    Related links