One plaintiff is a U.S. Army veteran from the Upper Peninsula who proudly served in the Iraq war. The other is an anti-war activist from Ann Arbor.
But despite their different political beliefs, both Michigan residents were united in a lawsuit they filed against the state of Michigan last year over a law that allows the restriction of license plates that are deemed “offensive to good taste and decency.”
On Wednesday, a federal judge in Grand Rapids agreed with the two men, saying that the state had no right to ban license plates they requested that read “INF1DL,” a variation of the word “infidel,” which refers to a non-believer, or one that read “WAR SUX.”
Judge Gordon Quist said in his ruling: “The First Amendment applies to messages on personalized license plates.”
Judge Quist said that the state law restricting what license plates can say is “unconstitutionally vague and overbroad.” In a consent agreement reached, the state is now prohibited from enforcing the section of a state law that says it can prohibit license plates seens as indecent and in bad taste.
The Michigan branch of the American Civil Liberties Union, which filed the lawsuit, hailed Wednesday’s decision as a victory for free speech.
“The state cannot…censor the speech with which it disagrees – that is unfair and unconstitutional,” said Dan Korobkin, ACLU of Michigan’s deputy legal director. “This case is another win for First Amendment freedoms.”
In Indiana, the Bureau of Motor Vehicles is facing similar legal pressure.
In May, a judge in Indianapolis ruled the BMV prohibition on some vanity plates was arbitrary, unexplainable and unconstitutional. The BMV has appealed to the Indiana Supreme Court.