State Agrees to Stop Enforcing Unconstitutional Law After Judge Rules Michigan Vanity Plates Protected by First Amendment

September 03, 2014

DETROIT – In a victory for the free speech rights of Michigan drivers, a judge signed a consent judgment today ordering the State of Michigan to stop enforcing an unconstitutional law that allows the Secretary of State’s office to deny personalized license plates based on overly broad and vague criteria.

Last year, the ACLU of Michigan filed a lawsuit on behalf of a war veteran from the Upper Peninsula whose attempts to acquire a personalized license plate that includes a variation of the word “infidel” were unconstitutionally rejected by the Secretary of State for being “offensive to good taste and decency.”

Later, the ACLU of Michigan amended its lawsuit to include a political activist from Ann Arbor who was similarly told that his request for a license plate that says “WAR SUX” was being denied because that, too, might offend someone. In May 2013, U.S. District Judge Gordon Quist denied the state’s motion to dismiss the case, ruling that the “offensive to good taste and decency” law violates the First Amendment.

Today’s settlement allows the vanity license plate program to continue while still protecting drivers’ First Amendment rights.

The following can be attributed to Dan Korobkin, ACLU of Michigan deputy legal director:

“Today’s order makes clear that a message on a vanity license plate may be brief, but still enjoys the same protections as all other speech. The state cannot give residents a platform to express their identity, religion, sense of humor or political ideology and then censor the speech with which it disagrees – that is unfair and unconstitutional. This case is another win for First Amendment freedoms.”

Key News & Documents

Read the consent judgment 

Read the judge’s opinion

Read the amended complaint