Judge Reinstates BMV’s Personal License Plate Program

Affiliate: ACLU of Indiana
May 8, 2014 12:00 am

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Marion Superior Court ruling on class action suit also directs BMV to reinstate police officer’s 0INK plate and other personalized plates

May 8, 2014

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Indianapolis — Hoosiers will once again be able to purchase personalized Indiana license plates because of a decision issued late yesterday in Marion Superior Court.

The Court found that the Bureau of Motor Vehicles violated Indiana law in July of 2013 when it suspended the personalized license plate program, and it ordered that the program be immediately reinstated.

The Court further found that the standards the BMV was using to assess the appropriateness of personalized license plates violated the First Amendment and Indiana law and ordered that they cease being used.

The class action lawsuit was brought by the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana on behalf of Corporal Rodney G. Vawter, a Greenfield, Indiana, police officer whose personalized license plate (PLP) of “0INK” was revoked for being inappropriate, even though it had been approved by the Fraternal Order of Police for use on its specialty plate. The BMV had previously approved Corporal Vawter’s plate for more than three years.

Another plaintiff, Jay Voigt of Allen County, had had his personalized license plate of “UNHOLY” revoked as inappropriate as well, and was unable to reapply for a PLP because of the suspension.

“The First Amendment prevents arbitrary decision making when it comes to expression,” said ACLU of Indiana Legal Director Kenneth J. Falk. “The standards used by the BMV here were so arbitrary that it denied such plates as ‘NOBAMA,’ ‘SEXYGRMA,’ and ‘BIBLE H8R,’ while approving ‘GOBAMA,’ ‘FOXYGMA,’ and ‘BIBLE4M.’ The Court properly recognized that the BMV does not have in place adequate, lawful, and constitutional standards to assess personalized license plates.”

The decision, Rodney G. Vawter, et al., v. Commissioner of the Indiana Bureau of Motor Vehicles, Cause No. 49D014-1305-PL-016159, was issued by the Marion Superior Court on May 7, 2014.

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