Confederate Flag on Texas Plates Heads to High Court

Supreme Court to decide if state has right to ban what some see as offensive
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Mar 23, 2015 8:26 AM CDT
Confederate Flag on Texas Plates Heads to High Court
This photo provided by the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles shows the design of a proposed Sons of Confederate Veterans license plate.   (AP Photo/Texas Department of Motor Vehicles)

The Supreme Court today considers whether Texans should have the right, as folks in nine other states do, to drive around with a license plate bearing the Confederate flag. The Sons of Confederate Veterans—a "heritage organization," as per spokesman Ben Jones, and "not a bunch of racists"—argues that the state is violating First Amendment rights by disallowing the vanity plates, the New York Times reports. "[The flag] represents the independent spirit of the South, no matter what race you are," says Jones, a Georgia Democrat and two-term House rep (he also played Cooter on The Dukes of Hazzard, which, as he points out in the Times, featured the General Lee, complete with Confederate flag). On the other side of the argument are the flag's more unpleasant associations, such as secession and slavery.

"Why should we as Texas want to be reminded of a legalized system of involuntary servitude, dehumanization, rape, mass murder?" state Sen. Royce West said in 2011, per NPR. The argument: whether the plates represent the individual owner—meaning the logo is protected by free-speech laws, the SCV says—or if they represent "government speech," implying Texas' endorsement, per the Wall Street Journal. Gov. Rick Perry has come out against it ("We don’t need to be scraping old wounds," he said in the Los Angeles Times in 2011), while the ACLU supports the SCV. "The Constitution does not permit the state to discriminate against messages in a forum it has created for private speech," the ACLU said in a brief, per the New York Times. Texas is hypocritical, the SCV points out in the Times, noting that the state celebrates Confederate Heroes Day and sells tiny Confederate flags (sans St. Andrew's cross) in the Capitol gift shop. (More Texas stories.)

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