In a ruling released on June 18, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of Texas, saying the state did not violate First Amendment rights when legislators banned all license plates with an image of the Confederate flag.
The ruling, decided in a close 5-4 vote, stated that the state can choose what content can be featured on license plates since the property technically belongs to the state and does not belong to the owner, much like a car magnet or bumper sticker does, the Associated Press reported.
Writing for the majority was Justice Stephen Breyer, one of the four liberal justices on the bench. He said that the state’s decision to remove objective material from state property does not infringe on citizens’ First Amendment rights. Joining Breyer in the majority opinion were the Court’s three other liberal members – Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan along with the conservative Justice Clarence Thomas.
The initial claim was filed by The Sons of Confederate Veterans who wanted a symbol of the Confederate flag to be featured on all state license plates. Earlier, a state board did not allow this to occur out of fear that many Texans would be offended.
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The group won their first victory when a federal appeals court agreed that the group’s free speech rights were not fully granted under the license plate ban. “We understand that some members of the public find the Confederate flag offensive. But that fact does not justify the board’s decision,” said Judge Edward Prado of the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans, Louisiana.
Writing the dissenting opinion, Supreme Court Justice Sam Alito worried that the majority’s opinion “establishes a precedent that threatens private speech that the government finds displeasing.”
According to the New York Times, the flag appears on license plates in eight other states – Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia. With the Supreme Court’s latest decision, these states are now allowed to ban the image, as well.