A case before the Supreme Court (Walker v. Texas Division, Sons of Confederate Veterans, Inc.) contests whether the state of Texas can decide not to issue specialty license plates bearing a Confederate battle flag.
At one time license plates (called tags in some locales) just served to identify the car for law enforcement purposes. But states realized they could make money by allowing those with registered vehicles to pay a bit extra to have specialty license plates with a logo or message on them.
Texas law gives the state the right to reject specialty license plates that are offensive. But some things are offensive to a few, and others offensive to many. Is this standard vague?
Some would have no trouble with “Legalize pot”; others might find it offensive. Lots of folks would be offended by “Go Nazis” (perhaps with a nice swastika) but others might not be.
Even words that seem noncontroversial to most, could be offensive to someone. Where does this end?
A related issue would be that since the state is issuing these license plates, does the state appear to be endorsing a message. If they can decline to issue license plates with a message they disagree with are they inhibiting free speech?
Since someone who would like to use the vehicle as a platform for “free speech” can easily use a bumper sticker, is the state significant interfering with free speech?
More complicated but related issue is state censorship of personalized license plates. If someone wanted a license plate that used NAZI or some other word deemed offensive as an identifier rather than the seemingly random state issued combination of letters and numbers, that is more clearly an individual message but still issued by the state. Would the courts see this issues as similar?