ACLU settles vanity plate lawsuit with state
Department of Revenue's new policy in line with ACLU demands
The state of South Dakota will avoid a trip to court over its personalized license plate policy after agreeing not to deny anymore applications based on a “good taste and decency” standard.
The American Civil Liberties Union Monday announced it has reached a settlement with the South Dakota Department of Revenue after suing the state for alleged free speech violations, after it denied hundreds of applications for vanity license plates in recent years.
“While its tempting to classify this as an insignificant issue, this is about so much more than just a licenses plate,” said Stephanie Amiotte, legal director for the South Dakota chapter of the ACLU. “Its about our first amendment rights, and we won’t allow the state to chip away at our constitutional rights like this one piece a time.”
The ACLU first raised alarms on the policy in August, pointing to standards they called arbitrary in the customized licenses plate approval process. That prompted the Department of Revenue, which oversees the state’s Motor Vehicle Division, to change their policy in October, modifying it so that it no longer include a general prohibition on licenses plate language deemed to be “offensive to good taste and decency.” The policy allowed about 600 applicants who had previously been denied the ability to reapply.
Still, the ACLU in November moved forward with their lawsuit, arguing that the policy “lacked clear standards and objective definitions to prevent arbitrary and discriminatory application.”
A spokeswoman with the Department of Revenue indicated that the settlement affirms the new policy adopted earlier this year.
As part of the agreement, the state will make a public statement and include a note on the department’s website noting that the new policy has been implemented. Additionally, any individual who was previously denied a customized plate will be allowed to reapply.