Friday, July 15, 2016

From the Archives: Federal judge rules Virginia can prohibit Confederate flags on license plates

Publisher's note: This article was originally published on on August 6, 2015. The publishing platform was discontinued July 1, 2016, and its web site is scheduled to go dark on or about July 10, 2016.  I am republishing this piece in an effort to preserve it and all my other contributions to since April 6, 2010. It is reposted here without most of the internal links that were in the original.

Federal judge rules Virginia can prohibit Confederate flags on license plates

According to a news release from the office of Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring distributed on August 6, a federal judge has decided that the Commonwealth may ban Confederate symbols on specialty license plates, setting in motion a process by which the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) will begin to recall all such vehicle tags displaying the Confederate battle flag.

Original decision
Back in 2001, federal Judge Jackson L. Kiser ruled that specialty license plates “conveyed the speech of the driver” and that the state could not deny the application of Sons of Confederate Veterans for a license plate that included the Confederate battle flag. The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed Kiser's decision and Virginia chose not to appeal the case to the Supreme Court.

In light of this year's Supreme Court decision in Walker v. Texas Division, Sons of Confederate Veterans, Inc., which “reached the conclusion that specialty license plates represent the state’s speech, not the driver’s,” Kiser vacated his original order from 2001 and lifted the injunction that prevents the Commonwealth from prohibiting Confederate symbols on vehicle license tags.

In issuing his ruling, Kiser wrote that “When the Supreme Court speaks, district courts must listen. In light of the ruling in Walker, the primary rationale for the 2001 judgment and injunction in this case is no longer good law. Specialty license plates represent the government’s speech, and the Commonwealth may choose, consonant with the First Amendment, the message it wishes to convey on those plates. The Commonwealth’s rationale for singling out [Sons of Confederate Veterans] for different treatment is no longer relevant. According to the Supreme Court, the Commonwealth is free to treat SCV differently from all other specialty groups. Because the underlying injunction violates that right, I have no choice but to dissolve it.”

Herring's reaction
In reaction to Kiser's decision, Attorney General Herring said it “will allow Virginia to remove a symbol of oppression and injustice from public display on its license plates.”

He added that "Virginia state government does not have to and will not endorse such a divisive symbol. I appreciate Governor McAuliffe's leadership in calling for the removal of the flag and those on my team who moved quickly to get it done."

Kiser's order came in Sons of Confederate Veterans, Inc. v. Holcomb in the United States District Court for the Western District of Virginia.


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