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Marion Court Rules Against Personalized License Plate Ban

The judge is ordering the BMV to reinstate its personalized license plate program.

personalized license plates

Photo: Mike Smail (Flickr)

The BMV suspended its personalized license plate program last July.

A Marion County Superior Court judge is ordering the Bureau of Motor Vehicles to immediately reinstate its personalized license plate program.

The BMV suspended the program last year after the American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit challenging how the BMV decided whether to issue personalized plates.

The judge says the standards the BMV was using to assess the appropriateness of personalized license plates violated the First Amendment and Indiana law.

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of Rodney Vawter, a Greenfield police officer whose personalized license plate that read “0INK” was not re-approved three years after it was originally issued. The BMV said the plate was inappropriate.

ACLU of Indiana’s legal director Ken Falk says there are two violations. First, the BMV isn’t authorized to suspend the legislatively-created program. Second, he says, the BMV’s personalized plate standards are too vague.

“When you’re dealing with First Amendment expression – and a personalized license plate is expression under the First Amendment – there has to be clear standards or else you have arbitrary decision making,” he says.

Falk says BMV denied licenses plates such as s “NOBAMA,” “SEXYGRMA,” and “BIBLE H8R,” while approving “GOBAMA,” “FOXYGMA,” and “BIBLE4M.”

The court’s ruling orders the BMV to reinstate the program and create new, clearer standards.

A BMV spokesman says they are still reviewing the opinion and have not made a decision as to the next steps they will take.

Brandon Smith, IPBS

Brandon Smith, IPBS has previously worked as a reporter and anchor for KBIA Radio in Columbia, MO, and at WSPY Radio in Plano, IL as a show host, reporter, producer and anchor. Brandon graduated from the University of Missouri-Columbia with a Bachelor of Journalism in 2010, with minors in political science and history. He was born and raised in Chicago.

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