At least eight states have specialty license plates bearing the Confederate flag. In the wake of the savage hate crime against members of Charleston’s Emanuel AME Church, however, Governors from four of these states (MD, NC, TN and VA) have publicly stated they want to discontinue these plates or remove images of the flag from them. Ending Confederate flag plates is not only the right thing to do, but in light of a June 18th U.S. Supreme Court decision - Walker v. Texas Division, Sons of Confederate Veterans – it poses no legal issues.
The Confederate flag is a potent symbol of slavery and white supremacy, which has caused it to be very popular among white supremacists in the 20th and 21st centuries. State license plates bearing the flag only serve to endorse it and implicitly convey acceptance of racism and hatred. In the 21st Century, no government entity should display or be associated with any symbol of hate. And they have no First Amendment obligation to display such symbols.
In the Walker decision, the Supreme Court ruled that specialty license plates are solely government speech. As a result, the State of Texas was not required to accept a specialty plate bearing the Confederate flag.
In reaching this conclusion, the Court wisely stated:
[A] person who displays a message on a Texas license plate likely intends to convey to the public that the State has endorsed that message. If not, the individual could simply display the message in question in larger letters on a bumper sticker right next to the plate.
Every American certainly has the First Amendment right to display virtually any symbol on his or her car – even hateful ones. But hate symbols, such as the Confederate flag, have no place on any official identification or document no matter how seemingly innocuous. The Governors and legislators of all states with Confederate flag license plates should expeditiously work to discontinue them.