Taylor expects DMV challenge

Published 5:41 pm Saturday, August 8, 2015

Suffolk attorney Fred Taylor anticipates that his clients will mount a challenge to the Department of Motor Vehicles attempting to take about 1,700 license plates off the road.

Taylor represented the Sons of Confederate Veterans and the Virginia Division of the organization in a court case last month. The state asked a federal judge to vacate a judgment and dissolve an injunction that, in 2001, had allowed the organization to have its logo featuring the Confederate battle flag on specialty plates, even though a state law on the books prevented it.

A Supreme Court finding in a Texas case in June reached the conclusion that specialty license plates are state speech, not that of the driver of the car. The finding was at odds with the 2001 ruling in the Virginia case, which had not reached the Supreme Court.

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“When the Supreme Court speaks, district courts must listen,” wrote Judge Jackson L. Kiser of the United States District Court for the Western District of Virginia. “According to the Supreme Court, the Commonwealth is free to treat (the Sons of Confederate Veterans) differently from all other specialty groups.”

Taylor had argued that Virginia’s method for selecting the design of specialty plates is different from the Texas case, which was titled “Walker v. Texas Division, Sons of Confederate Veterans Inc.”

“There is no merit to Plaintiffs’ contention that Walker is limited solely to one of Texas’s methods of selecting specialty plate designs,” Judge Kiser wrote. “The Supreme Court’s decision did not rely on the method used to select the plate designs, but on ‘the history of license plates’ … the fact that ‘license plate designs “are often closely identified in the public mind with the state,”’ Kiser wrote, quoting other cases.

The ruling means Virginia is now free to enforce its law preventing the Sons of Confederate Veterans from having its logo on specialty plates issued to its members.

Attorney General Mark Herring’s office announced last week that the Department of Motor Vehicles will begin recalling and replacing the license plates already on the streets, but Taylor anticipates a challenge.

“There is absolutely NO mention in Judge Kiser’s opinion or order regarding the recall of such plates,” Taylor wrote in an email, adding that the ruling applies only to license plates issued in the future. “To recall the existing SCV plates is absurd and premature, absent a court ruling. The court’s decision here does not and should not affect the nearly 1,700 members of the Sons of Confederate Veterans who legally purchased such plates and are exercising their First Amendment rights. I anticipate that my clients and their membership will wholeheartedly challenge any such recall if the DMV attempts to proceed in this manner.”