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Thinking about the March 10 article in the BDN relating to the Bureau of Motor Vehicles recall of certain vanity license plates, I thought I would share my personal research compiled before the Legislature proposed new guidance on vanity plate content.
I started by examining the many court cases that were litigated up to and including the U.S. Supreme Court that supported well-crafted rulemaking and found that there was plenty of evidence that states had a real interest in the content of vanity plates. Then, while it took quite a lot of time, I looked at every state in the U.S. and their rules and process associated with vanity plates. My finding was that unregulated content existed only in Maine (prior to the new approach)! That isn’t to say that the First Amendment doesn’t apply but that vanity plates are not equivalent to a public bulletin board or opportunity for the expression of individual opinions.
The purpose of license plates is vehicle registration and, by the way, revenue generation. Words on such plates could imply an endorsement of language that could reflect on the character or opinions of the state of Maine. While individual intent might not be to create problematic letter combinations, it is naive to think that every motorist or interested passerby can divine intent.