Dec 5, 2014 3:17 PM

Court to review Confederate flag on license plates

The Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) The Supreme Court is taking on a free speech case over a proposed license plate in Texas that would feature the Confederate battle flag.

The case involves the government's ability to choose among the political messages it allows drivers to display on state-issued license plates.

The justices said Friday they will review a lower court ruling in favor of the Texas Division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans. The group is seeking a specialty plate with its logo bearing the battle flag, similar to plates issued by several other states that were part of the Confederacy.

The case will be argued in March.

A state motor vehicle board rejected the application because of concerns the Confederate flag would offend many Texans who believe the flag is a racially charged symbol of repression. But a panel of federal appeals court judges ruled that the board's decision violated the group's First Amendment rights.

Texas offers more than 350 specialty plates, the group said in its court filing. They include plates that say "Choose Life," ''God Bless Texas," ''Fight Terrorism," as well as others in support of Boy Scouts, Mothers Against Drunk Driving, blood donations, pro sports teams and colleges.

The state said in its Supreme Court appeal that the decision to reject the Sons of Confederate Veterans' license plate was not discrimination because the motor vehicle board had not approved a license plate expressing any view about the Confederacy or the battle flag.

Other federal appeals courts have come to differing conclusions on the issue, the state said.

A separate issue concerns whether state-issued licensed plates amount to government speech. The First Amendment applies when governments try to regulate the speech of others, but not when governments are doing the talking.

The court did not act on a second, similar appeal from North Carolina. That case centers on a court ruling blocking the use of the "Choose Life" plate in North Carolina because the state refused also to issue a specialty plate in favor of abortion rights.

The Texas case is Walker v. Texas Division, Sons of Confederate Veterans, 14-144.


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