Virginia governor says Confederate flag should come off license plates

Gov. Terry McAuliffe said he wants to ban license plates picturing the Confederate flag emblem, including ones belonging to the Sons of Confederate Veterans.

Texas Department of Motor Vehicles/AP
This image provided by the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles shows the design of a proposed Sons of Confederate Veterans license plate. The Supreme Court has upheld Texas' refusal to issue a license plate bearing the Confederate battle flag, rejecting a free-speech challenge. Virginia governor Terry McAuliffe also said he plans to ban the group's license plates in his state.

Amid increasing pressure after the massacre at a black church in Charleston, S.C., of nine people, Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe (D) is moving to ban state license plates bearing the image of the Confederate flag.

Praising fellow Governor Nikki Haley of South Carolina for her call to remove the Confederate flag from her statehouse's grounds, Mr. McAuliffe said that Virginia should follow her lead.

Virginia currently offers a specialty license plate featuring the Confederate flag logo of a group called Sons of Confederate Veterans. But "even its display on state-issued license tags, in my view, is unnecessarily divisive and hurtful to too many of our people," McAuliffe said.

The issue of displaying the Confederate flag has received even more attention in the wake of the Charleston shooting, in which Dylann Storm Roof is accused of murdering nine members of a historic black church. But the issue coincidentally came up in a Supreme Court ruling last week, in which the court ruled against the Sons of Confederate Veterans who were seeking to force Texas to issue license plates displaying the flag.

The Christian Science Monitor’s Warren Richey wrote of the Supreme Court's decision that “The question in the case was whether specialty license plates represent the private speech of Texas drivers, and are thus subject to First Amendment protection, or are instead government speech, which isn’t subject to that same level of free speech protection.

"We hold that Texas’ specialty license plate designs constitute government speech and that Texas was consequently entitled to refuse to issue plates featuring SCV’s proposed design,’ Justice Stephen Breyer wrote in the majority opinion.

He said states have traditionally used license plates to convey slogans and other government messages. In addition, the plates serve a government function as essentially a state-issued ID for vehicles.

Justice Breyer added that Texas effectively controlled the content of the plates through a board that exercises final approval over proposed messages.

If Texas didn’t exert such control, Breyer said, the state might be forced to issue plates with messages the state rejects. For example, the state’s ‘Fight Terrorism’ specialty plate, might prompt someone to request a specialty plate promoting Al Qaeda, he said.”

A 2002 federal court case decided that Virginia could not prevent the Sons of Confederate Veterans from putting the logo on its license plates, but  McAuliffe says he has asked Attorney General Mark Herring to pursue the steps necessary to reverse the decision.

In the meantime, he has asked the secretary of transportation to replace the already existing plates depicting the flag, which he called “hurtful” to too many people.

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