A personalized license plate seemed like the perfect way for Lyndon Hart to promote his business, Rez Weed Indeed.
REZWEED plates, he figured, would be a great way to call attention to the Flandreau company’s mission of supporting the legal selling and use of medical and recreational marijuana on all federally recognized Indian reservations as a way of respecting and honoring and supporting Tribal Sovereignty.
But Hart’s plates were denied. The South Dakota Department of Revenue Motor Vehicle Division said the requested plates were “in poor taste.”
While Hart, with help from the ACLU of South Dakota, eventually got his REZWEED plates, he’s not alone in his frustration with the South Dakota law. if a personalized plate has been issued but later determined to carry connotations offensive to good taste and decency, the Motor Vehicle Division can recall it.
The ACLU of South Dakota filed a federal lawsuit challenging South Dakota’s personalized license plate law and the Motor Vehicle Division’s policy that infringes on the free speech rights of all South Dakotans.
Although only a few characters long, vanity plates can add a unique custom touch for many drivers, but by putting the brakes on some custom tags, the state infringing on the free speech rights of all South Dakotans. In the past five years, the Motor Vehicle Division has rejected hundreds of personalized plate requests because they allegedly carried “connotations offensive to good taste and decency” – a standard that is overly broad, vague, and subjective and that is in violation of the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution, including the rights of free speech and due process.
Even though the Motor Vehicle Division implemented an update to its policy in September to “clarify the approval process for personalized plates,” it doesn’t change or repeal any parts of the codified law in question and still contains provisions that censor free speech of South Dakotans.
South Dakota, like other states, has created a system of protected speech through the personalized plate program and is required to comply with the Constitution. The First Amendment prevents arbitrary decision-making when it comes to expression. Although no one likes to be offended, it’s dangerous to allow the government to decide which speech is allowed and which should be censored.
The 8th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals has ruled that license plates are a legitimate place for personal and political expression, and courts throughout the country have struck down laws similar to South Dakota’s.
Have you or someone you know been denied a personalized plate? Drop us a note at firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll be in touch.