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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.)

Having read the Supreme Court's opinion now twice, I cannot see how "bdross" thinks my opinion and the Monitor's is "dreck" (trash to the rest of us). The Supreme Court erred here and likely the State could and moreover should challenge this at the U. S. Supreme Court. The fact is that the license plates are a non public forum inasmuch as they are State property and never set up or designated as a plate for free speech or expression in the manner the petitioner Montenegro suggests. This is a case of the ever tilting at windmills New Hampshire ACLU and the Court not interpreting the stature as Constructionists, rather loosely construed. The test for what a reasonable person considers permissible has not been answered by the New Hampshire Supreme Court. The fact is the content suggested by the Petitioner is designed to cause or otherwise suggest facts not in evidence and suggests "COPS LIE". The fact is that not all cops lie, and for the State DMC to allow this content simply sets the wrong standard to this, "the reasonable man."

Isn't it just as ridiculous that the DMV wasted taxpayer's money by not approving a factually accurate license plate? John Barthelmes is the commissioner of safety, not our State Censor. Just print the darn plate! Leaving the vague determination of which sequences of letters and words are not "in good taste"--because it offends the bureaucrat personally--is exactly the kind of that to which civil rights recoil in horror. Mr. McCarthy should have read the Court's opinion to understand how silly his opinion sounds. And how terribly unsurprising that the Concord Monitor endorsed this dreck: "Free speech is a sometimes civil right!"

Vanity plates were the precursor to the fifteen minutes of fame. I liken them to the stick finger family pasted on the back of cars or the "baby on board phase. That also goes hand in hand with "My kid is an honor roll student at (insert school here). And that all leads to Facebook where everyone is so "special". From taking pictures of a lunch of sloppy joe's to dinner to holding up a beer for all to see how party hearty you are. Yes fifteen minutes of fame. But I really don't think that government should make the decision of what you can and can't have on your license plate. If it is dumb, it represents the person driving the car. We have many more important things to worry about like Obama oversteps of he Constitution, war in the Middle East, Iran getting a nuclear weapon, the IRS scandal, the NSA spying on regular citizens, the GSA spending of millions for meetings with hot tubs, the VA scandal, a growing military build up like the Chinese Navy, our suffering economy, etc.

100% incorrect. The courts ruling got rid of "judgement" and installed specific "standards' . ..... liberals ....sheeeeesh

You are incorrect that I challenged my license plate in court. Unfortunately, at the time I didn't have the time. I wrote some letters, pointed out that Virginia Beecher lied to the press about the fact that I never responded to DMV's written request to return my plate (I did, via certified mail), and asserted in those letters that my revocation of my plate was unconstitutional. The NH Supreme Court eventually agreed with my position, and for the same reasons I outlined in my letters to the DMV. Your editorial is basically sour grapes. Now please go about making sure that the DMV complies with the decision.

Apologies Paula, you didn't use the courts at that time, I realize now that you just used the media to try this case with by lines such as "armed thugs" to describe our dedicated State Troopers, and slander Ginny Beecher. TSM

"...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. "......and as citizens, according to the 1st amendment, we are not required to display "all that goes with it" as MAYNARD v. WOOLEY proved...the courts it seems, are having a very hard time with this issue.

You are on point with Maynard but only to the extend in my view that, ""The defendants' membership in a class of persons required to display plates bearing the State motto carries no implication and is subject to no requirement that they endorse that motto or profess to adopt it as matter of belief." according to Justice Rehnquist. In this case the license plates are the property of the state and as you aptly cite, the citizens are not required to display the motto Live Free or Die according to Maynard. But that issue in not tangential as you so say it is that if people want what the state considers distasteful or inappropriate vanity tags, it seems to me that you are saying two wrongs make a right? TSM

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