My Turn: Vanity license plates are a judgment call
As a lifelong New Hampshire resident and a person who has had his share of vanity tags over the years, I must chime in on this vanity plate situation.
The New Hampshire Civil Liberties Union, in its challenge for David Montenegro at the state Supreme Court, has again attempted to litigate something ridiculous and waste more of the taxpayers’ money and the court’s time.
This is just a repeat of the many unsuccessful challenges by other notable New Hampshire residents such as attorney Paula Werme. She, for example, has made challenges over the years with her provocative vanity license plates and requests. Those were dealt with swiftly by the Department of Motor Vehicles, and they did the right thing in those matters.
Now we have people asserting their First Amendment rights to get vanity license plates.
What one has to remember is that a driver’s license is a privilege, not a right, and the Division of Motor Vehicles has discretion over what is considered appropriate to display along with the state’s name and all that goes with it.
License plates are state property, not the property of the person they are issued to.
The ACLU and its client should remember that under the First Amendment, they don’t have the absolute right to free speech. It comes with it restrictions of time, place and manner.
A license plate is certainly covered by these restrictions!
I suggest to your readers and moreover Chief Justice Linda Dalianis and Justice Carol Ann Conboy that they should perhaps remember that in 1964, we had a U.S. Supreme Court justice named Potter Stewart who described for us his threshold test for obscenity in Jacobellis v. Ohio (1964).
Potter said, “I know it when I see it.” He was referring to pornography and not license plates, but the sentiment is the same.
John Barthelmes, the commissioner of safety, is a reasonable man and his department has always acted responsibly in previous cases, using sound judgment and common sense as its measure. Vanity license plate issuance should be left to the steadfast good judgment of Barthelmes, as it was to his predecessor Dick Flynn, who also “knew it when he saw it.”
(T. Stephen McCarthy lives in Portsmouth.)