INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — A police officer has the right to buy a vanity license
plate reading "0INK," an Indiana judge has said in a ruling that extends
far beyond one plate.
Judge James Osborn ruled Wednesday that the Indiana Bureau of Motor
Vehicles violated Greenfield police Officer Rodney Vawter's freedom of
speech rights when it revoked his plate after three years, saying its
content was "offensive or misleading."
Civil Liberties Union of Indiana filed a class action lawsuit against the
BMV based on Vawter's case in May 2013. Now, the BMV must do much more
than simply allow Vawter to have his "0INK" plate.
"They have to
start handing out vanity plates again and they have to change their
standards to fit the Constitution," ACLU Indiana legal director Ken Falk
The BMV stopped
offering vanity plates last July until the case was decided.
The judge said
the BMV had no formal regulations in place for evaluating the content of
vanity plates and ordered it to create formal standards that meet
constitutional requirements within six months. It can use the old
standards in the meantime, within limits such as barring profanity.
"That's to avoid
the chaos that would ensue if there were no standards," Falk said.
The BMV also must
inform of the ruling all the people whose plates were denied or revoked,
or who would have applied for vanity plates if the agency had not
suspended issuing them. The BMV must allow those people to reapply.
The BMV had cited
a state statute that allowed it to refuse to issue a plate that officials
deem to contain arranged letters and numbers that carry "a connotation
offensive to good taste and decency" or that "would be misleading."
The court found
the agency's use of its own standards was inconsistent and biased. For
example, the agency revoked an "UNHOLY" vanity plate but allowed vanity
plates such as "B HOLY" and "HOLYONE." The BMV also rejected the vanity
plate "HATER" but accepted "HATE" and "HATERS."
revoking Vawter's "0INK" plate, it allowed plates reading "OINKS" or
Bryan Corbin, a
spokesman for the state attorney general's office, which represented the
BMV, said it would review the ruling with the bureau before deciding
whether to file an appeal.
A BMV spokesman
didn't immediately return a phone call from the Associated Press seeking
The case is among
several cases involving the content of vanity plates that have been filed
across the country.
The New Hampshire
Supreme Court ruled Wednesday in favor of a man with a "COPSLIE" plate. In
a unanimous decision, the court agreed with the arguments of David
Montenegro, who wanted the vanity plate to protest what he calls