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Editorial: Do we really need state-issued vanity plates?

At the risk of sounding like the biggest grouches of the 21st century, here’s a question worth pondering: Does the state government really need to be in the business of issuing vanity plates? Do motorists really need the option of telling the world (for a small fee) how much they love their grandchildren or the Red Sox or Elvis from an official state-issued piece of aluminum?

Yes, yes, vanity plates are popular, but last week’s arguments before the state Supreme Court got us wondering if they’re really worth the hassle.

At issue is the case of a man formerly known as David Montenegro. He was before the court because the state Division of Motor Vehicles had rejected his request for a vanity plate that said “COPSLIE.” In the state’s view, the man’s message conflicts with community standards of morality and violated the notion of “good taste.” In the man’s view, the state’s ruling was arbitrary and violated his First Amendment right to free speech.

To prove his point, after “COPSLIE” was rejected, the man resubmitted his application with a number of alternative suggestions. The state approved one that said “GR8GOVT” – proof to him that the state’s position was not “viewpoint neutral.”

What the justices will now have to wrestle with is whether the state’s standards are straightforward or ambiguous. Do they rely too much on the particular notions of individual DMV workers? Are they fair? Are they subjective? Would 10 DMV workers all come to the same conclusion about most vanity plate applications, or are the rules too murky? On the state website where motorists can apply for a vanity plate, the rules suggest mainly that you get seven characters and “certain letter/character combinations, such as H8” are prohibited.

It’s easy to imagine the Supreme Court ordering the state to come up with better rules. And it’s easy to imagine some future motorist again testing the boundaries – and the courts once again pondering just how offensive is too offensive.

This is not just a New Hampshire issue, of course. South Dakota once threatened to take away a woman’s plate that advocated for George W. Bush’s impeachment, but then relented. Florida officials once flip-flopped over whether an atheist was able to use the word “atheist” on his plates.

Maybe it would be better if the state phased out the vanity plates altogether. Maybe it would be better if state workers weren’t made to be the decorum police. Many motorists, after all, get along just fine with a nondescript jumble of numbers and letters. If they want to let the world know about their politics, their religion, their family, they use bumper stickers – which, offensive or otherwise, don’t need the government’s blessing.

Far-fetched, perhaps. A 2007 study on vanity plates across the country determined that they were more popular in New Hampshire than in 48 other states. (We were second only to Virginia.) So it’s admittedly hard to imagine the governor who would want to be at the helm when such a switch took place. But the current setup seems especially designed for unnecessary friction.

Legacy Comments12

What the Monitor fails to state is that vanity license plates are an additional source of revenue for state government. This editorial is just another example of how the Monitor only favor higher taxes as a form of financing government. If someone wants a "special" license pate. I'm all for it -- so long as they pay for it.

How about Van and Itsa getting their own blog on some conservative website. I am tired of skipping over their repetitive posts and I guess others are too since no one seems interested in replying to the same old, same old. Aren't there any other right wing poster out there with something new to say?

Free speech is free speech. If you want to read posts validating only your opinion there are so many progressive websites out there that will fit the bill as well. The truth be told, you just want validation and no challenge to your viewpoints. I would like to ask why you feel a need to attempt to pick fights on a daily basis. We are here to add perspective and keep people honest. Your suggestion is a stereotype that all conservatives hold one opinion and have nothing to say that you can agree with.

another liberal trying to stifle FREE SPEECH

Cheaper to issue them to the fanatics on the right - we'd only need a dozen or so. Just what does this have to do with political affiliation anyway? Is there nothing that can be discussed without bringing politics into it?

Political Correctness is "politics". The Left is all for it, the Right is against it. So it is "politics".

Who cares is someone "shells" out extra cash for a vanity plate? Not me. None of my business what people spend their money on. And if you can't read a plate from another state at a safe distance, you're gonna get close enough to read it to find out what state they're from? Why? Does the car look different? Or you just plain want to know. Controversial vanity plates should not be allowed. COPSLIE is controversial. I guess safe driving is not as important as getting to close to a vehicle to play a game. Sorry, I'm for vanity plates and spending my money the way I see fit.

COPs do lie, and now after the retirement of the last good State Trooper of Bruce Twyon, of they all lie of "To serve and protect" in their "Protection Racket". It's not that of to get the bad apples out of the barrel, but that the entire barrel be rotten, of from Col. Rbt. Quinn in Seabrook through Capt. Mark Armeganian in Concord down to Trooper Scott Frye who works not for us as he refuses to serve RSA Ch. 594:14 summons against RSA Ch. 643:1 Official Oppress-ors like Her Article 41 Excellency in Evasion of her Article 51 governor duty to the penalty clause in Section 2 of the 14th Amendment since none of the 4 in the N.H. Delegation will do their Section 5 duty. - - - - In fact when County Attorneys like Michael T.H. Johnson of Merrimack County did tell a COP to lie on the witness stand back then before he retired he got the top award that year and State Rep. Stretch Kennedy of Hopkinton seconded it. - - - - Vanity plates are not Article 38 "need"ed as being "frugal" but "want"ed by some who like to spend their extra money. To deny David this "Free Commercial Speech" by the current law of FOR him on EQUAL rights for telling the truth is just plain wrong!

NH is second in the nation in the most vanity plates per capita. I always thought it was ironic(and stupid) how the "frugal NH yankee" would shell out the extra cash for a silly vanity plate."

I think that so called specialty plates should also be eliminated by all states. The number of different plates states issue are ever expanding making it difficult to tell where someone is from. Mares playing the liscense plate game too difficult for young children and dangerous for drivers who have to get too close to see what state a car is from.

Oh, that is funny.

NH should issue a Scarlet Letter plate for liberals. That way we will know who to help create a new life of repentance and dignity.

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