Judge rules against Confederate plates

Published 10:02 pm Friday, July 31, 2015

A hearing in federal court on Friday did not go the way of one Suffolk attorney who was arguing the case for the Sons of Confederate Veterans.

The group sought to keep the state from removing its logo, part of which is the Confederate battle flag, from license plates. Attorney General Mark Herring filed court papers in June to dissolve an injunction that had been preventing the state from enforcing its law against the logo on SCV plates.

“I feel like the state didn’t really meet its burden of showing that the situation here in Virginia was the same situation as the Texas case,” said Fred Taylor of Bush and Taylor.

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He referred to last month’s U.S. Supreme Court decision in a Texas case that ruled that state could prohibit the flag from being displayed on license plates supporting the Sons of Confederate Veterans.

That ruling came down one day after a racially motivated shooting in Charleston, S.C., where a white man killed nine black people after participating in a Bible study with them at their historic church. A photo later emerged of him holding the Confederate flag, which sparked a wave of opposition to the public display of it.

“I think the judge felt like he needed to respect that Supreme Court decision, and that’s what he did,” Taylor said.

However, Taylor said the judge for the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Virginia in Danville has not yet ruled on what to do about the plates currently on the road.

“While he decided to lift the injunction as far as future production of Sons of Confederate Veterans plates with the logo, he has yet to make a decision on the issue of what to do about the existing plates on the road,” Taylor said. “He indicated to us he was going to be writing a formal written opinion in the next few weeks deciding that issue as well.”

Taylor said the group will make a decision on whether to appeal after seeing the written decision.

In 1999, the Virginia General Assembly voted to approve the tag, but only with the group’s logo removed. A 2001 U.S. District Court decision and a 2002 U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals decision required the state’s Department of Motor Vehicles to allow the emblem.

Herring praised the decision in a press release.

“This ruling will allow Virginia to remove a symbol of oppression and injustice from public display on its license plates,” Herring said. “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.”