A three-judge panel of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans has handed a victory to the Sons of Confederate Veterans by ruling that Texas can’t refuse to issue the group a specialty license plate with the Confederate battle flag on it.
The Texas Department of Motor Vehicles board of directors had rejected the organization’s application for a specialty plate in 2011 — the 150th anniversary of the start of the Civil War — because those who opposed it had argued that the so-called “Rebel flag” was offensive.
In a 2-1 vote Monday, the court said the DMV had engaged in “viewpoint discrimination,” and in doing so had violated the free speech rights of the Sons of Confederate Veterans. The judges noted that the DMV had approved plates for other veterans’ groups and military actions such as Buffalo Soldiers, Korean War, Vietnam and Operation Iraqi Freedom.
The panel’s opinion said it “appears that the only reason the board rejected the plate is the viewpoint it represents.”
The Confederate battle flag is highly offensive to many people, especially African Americans, as it is a reminder of slavery. The banner was also resurrected during the 1950s and 1960s as a symbol revered by those opposed to integration and equal opportunity for blacks.
Members of the veterans group say it is an organization that was founded in 1896 to honor the Confederate heritage and that the flag, although considered offensive by some, is their official logo.
Still, the standard does not belong on a state license plate.
The 5th Circuit’s decision overturns a ruling by a federal judge in Austin who found that the DMV had the right to reject the license plate.
Attorney General Greg Abbott’s office, which represents the DMV, has said it will challenge the latest ruling, either by asking the entire 5th Circuit Court of Appeals to hear the case or appealing the decision to the U. S. Supreme Court. That is the right thing to do.
Since specialty plates are issued by a department of the state, it should have the right to approve any design. If that authority is taken away, perhaps the state should get out of the specialty plate business altogether.