ACLU: NC's rejection of LGBTQ-themed vanity license plates raises 'constitutional concerns'

ACLU: NC's rejection of LGBTQ-themed vanity license plates raises 'constitutional concerns'

11:40am Aug 05, 2022
State officials have said they plan to do a full review of their “Do Not Issue” vanity license plate list by the end of the year, and could get rid of several entries. Photo courtesy of the North Carolina Department of Transportation.

A civil rights group says North Carolina’s refusal to allow vanity license plates with LGBTQ themes raises “constitutional concerns.” 

In a statement, Kristi Graunke, legal director for ACLU of North Carolina, says the state’s rejection of vanity license plates with terms like GAY, LESBIAN, and GAYPRIDE “amounts to discrimination and suppression of speech, and raises serious constitutional concerns."

Brenda Reddix-Smalls, a civil rights attorney and professor of law at North Carolina Central University, says for the most part, she agrees.

“This appears to be viewpoint discrimination — that the government is disfavoring anything that has mentioned LGBT or the gay community, so that would appear to be unconstitutional," said Reddix-Smalls. "Just on its face unconstitutional.”

But she says in order for a judge to rule it unconstitutional, they would have to determine whether license plates are considered private speech or government speech. The state has no power to regulate private speech, but it has a lot more leeway when it comes to government speech. 

And, she says the discussion is irrelevant if no one challenges the issue. 

“If the court does not, you know, take it up, then there's no right, there's no controversy and the state of North Carolina can continue doing what it’s doing, favoring or disfavoring speech on license plates based on an employee who decides whether it fits in," says Reddix-Smalls. 

State officials have said they plan to do a full review of their “Do Not Issue” vanity license plate list by the end of the year, and could get rid of several entries. 

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