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State Supreme Court hears arguments on controversial 'COPSLIE' vanity plate

If the man formerly known as David Montenegro were to boil every complaint he has ever harbored for the New Hampshire state government into a cogent, seven-character sound bite, and then imprint that on the front and back of his car, it would be “COPSLIE.”

In fact, for the past three years, he’s been trying to do just that. But the Rochester resident and soft-spoken critic of what he describes as systemic state government corruption has run into a series of obstacles, first at the Division of Motor Vehicles, and then with a judge in Strafford County Superior Court.

The problem, he said, is that the DMV violated his First Amendment rights by subjectively denying him vanity plates because, in their reading, the phrase “cops lie” is “offensive to good taste.” The state has insisted that denying Montenegro his plates was the correct move, because the message he sought to convey conflicts with community standards of morality.

Yesterday, the debate reached the highest court in the state. Wearing a patterned tie and worn brown hiking boots, Montenegro, who legally changed his name last year to “human” – lowercase “h” – told justices at the state Supreme Court that his case should have never made it so far.

“It’s so simple,” he said.

At times, the justices appeared to agree, taking issue less with the phrase “cops lie” and more with a state statute barring vanity plates that don’t seem in “good taste.”

“What is ‘good taste?’ ” asked Justice Carol Ann Conboy. “That is the nub of the argument.”

Chief Justice Linda Stewart Dalianis said the standard seemed overly ambiguous.

“If the person at the DMV happened to agree with the sentiment, by chance – said, ‘You know what, this isn’t offensive to me’ – then he gets the plate,” Dalianis told the state’s attorney, Richard Head.

“In the first round, I don’t disagree,” Head replied. “There is an initial screening and, but there’s also a process . . .”

“But that’s part of the problem,” Dalianis interjected. “This regulation strikes me as vague enough to become completely subjective.”

Head continued: “There’s actually a process for those plates to be revoked.”

“For example,” he said, “there’s a plate, ‘3MTA3.’ That’s a plate that if you look at and say that’s an interesting plate, and it goes through.”

“Until you look at it in the rearview mirror,” Justice Gary Hicks said.

“Exactly, your honor,” Head replied. “And that is a plate that can be revoked.”

“Certainly these particular kind of plates get through,” he added. “But if you get enough complaints about them, then you’re going to re-evaluate it.”

But Justice Robert Lynn told Anthony Galdieri, an attorney with the New Hampshire Civil Liberties Union who human deferred to for most of his allotted argument, that he could see a reason to ban a phrase such as “cops lie.”

“Under your view on the regulation, as it now exists, not only would COPSLIE be okay, but I can think of several other four-letter things that go before ‘lie,’ ” Lynn said. “For example, ‘WHTS’ – whites lie – or ‘BLKS’ – blacks lie – or ‘JEWS’ – Jews lie. Would that be okay for anyone to come along and say I want to put that on (my car)?”

“Under the current standard, we don’t know,” Galdieri said. “The standard is basically incapable of definition.”

When Montenegro first applied for the plates in May 2010, a division employee refused the request, reasoning that what he hoped to display was “insulting,” according to court documents. Montenegro appealed to the division’s director and to the state commissioner of safety, and he received a similar response.

Unsatisfied, he reapplied to the division, this time requesting the same plates, but including alternative choices, which he ranked from most to least preferred: “GR8GOVT”; “LUVGOVT”; “GOVTSUX”; “SEALPAC”; “GOVTLAZ.”

Division officials once again denied “COPSLIE,” but they okayed “GR8GOVT.”

Montenegro then turned to the courts, arguing last year that vanity plates constitute a public forum, and that the division had unfairly refused him plates that were critical of government, while granting him others that praised it.

The court upheld the division’s decision, ruling that the plates were government property and can therefore be regulated as long as that regulation remains viewpoint neutral.

Head said after the arguments yesterday that the division had made the right decision.

“It’s not a matter of opinion,” he said of the plates in question. “It’s an accusation of an entire class of officers relating to their morality.”

Asked whether he thinks the phrase is offensive to police officers, human said the point is to ask the question in the first place.

It “really just depends,” he said, “on whether or not you’re a cop who lies.”

(Jeremy Blackman can be reached at 369-3319, jblackman@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @JBlackmanCM.)

Legacy Comments62

To GWTW below as the reply is ghosted. There is a big difference from going to war to defend against a direct active act of aggression (Japan attacking the US at Pearl Harbor Hawaii) and going to war on trumped up lies where there the country we attacked had nothing to do with any attacks on the US, (IRAQ). You just might want to go back to school and relearn US History. What you try to say in your view of history is almost as bad as those people who deny the Jewish Holocaust never happened.

Its simple really...FDR said no boys sent to a foreign war...no conditions. Did boys get sent to a foreign war? Yes...Like I said...I believe we should have entered the war..sooner, but...since only congress can declare war, it wasnt really his call to make..was it?

Actually, the more I think of it..is is his call..A president can veto a declaration of war by the Congress can't he? Thus keeping his promise...

the false statement "trumped up lies" is permitted in this liberal rag because their low information democrats are so easily duped

"Obama won two elections and Obamacare was found constitutional by the Supreme Court." OK. that might be a "talking point" in Issa's eyes but it also happens to be the truth. Also give an example where Obama has ruled by "fiat" and if he has shouldn't your bunch of patriots be ready to impeach by now? You use inflammatory speech but actually only mean that you're angry that your side didn't win and you can't get over it.

For Tillie - TRUTH HURTS your argument: Yucca Mountain IS a law passed by Congress signed by the President and passed muster in the court. 1) "D.C. Circuit: Obama can’t ignore legislation just because he doesn’t like the policy.....Yucca Mountain ruling has important implications for Obamacare implementation and other refusals of the Obama administration to comply with congressional mandates." http://legalinsurrection.com/2013/08/d-c-circuit-obama-cant-ignore-legislation-just-because-he-doesnt-like-the-policy...... BY FIAT Obama closed the project after $$$18 BILLION already spent and he was slapped by the court and still wont budge. FIAT 2) Obama Labor Board Recess Appointments Are Unconstitutional, Federal Court Rules.... http://news.heartland.org/editorial/2013/02/02/court-strikes-down-obamas-nlrb-recess-appointments. Does Tillie wish I provide more examples?

Basically Bruce you are saying that the only diversity on this forum is the folks who agree with you. That pretty much sums up how a Progressive justifies their points. Maybe you can answer this for me Bruce. If you only believe you are correct, and whoever disagrees with you is wrong, that pretty much proves you are not willing to look at all sides of an issue. Last time I checked, any discussion that does not look at all sides of an issue, is nothing more than tunnel vision. Things are not black and white. They are shades of grey.

you and your "me too" group live in Bizarro world where you accuse everyone else of doing what you do. If any of you ever looked at all sides of an issues , it was a waste of time because you only agree the conservative is the right side. Where do you get this "shade of grey" stuff. Does Ted Cruz and the tea party believe in "shades of grey'? it is their way or we will shut down the government. The tea party Republicans are purging any representative that believes in a grey side. :There is no moderate poster on here. Tell me when you personally ever agreed with a liberal side of an issue?

I agree with liberal Jeane Shaheen's agreement with Ted Cruz to halt NObamaKare implementation. After all..... just 6 democrats saying NO to Cruz is what shut down the govt. Now 12 democrats have reversed their thinking to be aligned with Cruz. Anybody remember when another liberal said " I voted for it before I voted against it"

I'm saying there is a cohort of 4 or 5 posters on here from the right side of the political spectrum who repeatedly distort issues, play fast and loose with the facts, and when that fails, resort to name-calling and off-topic posts. If you can find examples where you or other Carp Per Diems demonstrate any genuine awareness of "shades of grey" other than the fact it may reference a best selling novel, let me know. Talk is cheap.

For GWTW sail wrote "Mrs. Beecher the head of DMV forever" denotes present tense. so you just might want to read posts a little more closely. Had sail said the former or ex head of DMV forever, I would not have posted! Ya just gots ta learn how to read with your conservative blinders off! Thanks for the great laugh!

I dunno..."former or ex head of DMV forever,"....no....thats not how the lingo goes around these parts.."Mrs. Beecher the head of DMV forever"...I took to mean long serving, and not necessarily current, usually meaning former. You just assumed he meant current...why didnt you just ask nicely if he meant current? Anyway, I think you missed the point....that the 50 states may have a banned plate list...

This is what the left does. They play on words to divert the attention away from the issue. This is a typical tactic. They cannot defend the issues, so they mince word play. Then after they are done that, they name call. Basically anybody on this forum who is not a Progressive is a target. So much for zeroing in on the issues and discussing the pros and cons to reach a solution. Lame.

Nice try Rabbit, I didn't divert anything. this is just plain English. I called out the error. Plain and simple. If you can't stand the heat then please leave the kitchen.

dont ya just love it when the "gotcha Politics" of the left fails miserably

gotcha politics of the left is so childish. It is their last resort when they cant debate the issues

There is no assuming here. The text is plain as day. As I am a true New Hampshirite, I do very much understand NH Lingo. That said, your words say present tense. Just ask any English Major. Your point gets lost when your not accurate. Now had you said that the you believe that 50 states may keep a banned plate list, then no one could argue that point, as it is an opinion. Thanks for the laugh though

Are Sail and GWTW the same poster? Sail obviously thought Beecher was still head of the MVD. The words "has been" denotes currently, otherwise he would have said "was the". Republicans never admit being wrong or if they don't know something they make it up.

The answer is no to your first question. Second, "Mrs Beecher the head of NHDMV forever"...I took to mean long serving head. "has been the esteemed leader of the 50 state DMV Directors and the keeper of that banned list."..Has been...the esteemed leader of the 50 state DMV Directors...not the current head of NH DMV. Hope that clears things up....

Thanks for the back up Tillie!

Not backup at all consider the source.

I notice how right wing Republicans speak with one voice. They don't disagree with each other, that is why I think sometimes there is really only one poster here, named GonewiththewindsailIsrarabbitvan. Liberals tend to think for themselves and can have different opinions on subjects and believe in freedom for all not just freedom for me and my beliefs. Oh well, I am still waiting for Obama's thanks for lower gas prices and for the Republican health care plan.

Well Tillie, you got one thing right in your post, Liberals do tend to think for themselves, they focus on what they deem fair, correct, etc. They do not focus on what is good for all or the big picture down the road. When you leave out the impact your agenda might have on the economy, jobs, etc, then that in my opinion is very narrow thinking. Basically we have a President who has been given the freedom to do what he wants. He will be protected by the press, his incompetence will never be addressed, and those that elected him will defend him, even if that defense is at the cost of the economy, jobs, and debt. The discussion should be about what is best for all of us. Not one party's agenda.

Excuse me..but, when was the last time you disagreed with Bruce Currie or vice versa?? Do you secretly disagree with liberal posters here..because I've yet to witness such an event....

That's not their name! It's GWitsaTWsailthecrank!

Hunter.........No, I think it is Huntilliebrumaugsec

Response to GWTW below: I think there is considerably more diversity of opinion between and among the posters on here other than the Carp Per Diem brigade, who tend to speak with one voice. The Carpers' penchant for distorting the facts often means that threads carry an undue amount of corrections and frequent descents into off-topic arguments. Their climate change posts are prime examples--multiple posts with numerous and repeated inaccuracies. As for Hunter Dan, I know Dan and I disagree on the issue of gun control, for one, and probably also on the issue of a two-state solution for Israel/Palestine. I suspect that's two more areas of divergence than any of the Carps Per Diems have with one another.

Bad analogy...Dan is not a liberal....Try my suggestion..you and tillie

Bruce, no one speaks with one voice more than progressives from repeating things like "obstructionism" to calling people "tea baggers". I can't tell you how many posters here posted: "we won two elections and Obamacare was found constitutional by the supreme court". Those are just a sample of talking points which are repeated here daily by progressive posters. There is no independent thought there.....it is the same propaganda on all left leaning sites. As far as what many of us of the same mind believe we believe in indivual rights and freedom not infringed by a government telling us that we must be collective. Many of us do not agree in the group that you mention. For instance, I am against Northern Pass, most of the group you speak of is for the Northern Pass. Two state solution to Israel and Palestine.......well I say NO WAY, not until the Palestinians can act live human beings vs savages. Gun control? No way. I want to be able to protect my freedom, my liberty, etc from what is becoming a police state.......and government state. Beyond that, the Constitutionis clear. Ya know, Obama did win two elections but he was not elected to usurp the power of the other branches or to throw out the Constitution and rule by fiat. Period.

Response to "I'm really a moderate" Itsa below: From the post: "Two state solution to Israel and Palestine.......well I say NO WAY, not until the Palestinians can act live human beings vs savages." Just substitute any other ethnic group or racial minority into that sentence, and see where that goes. This isn't the first time you've made such claims about an entire ethnic group--labeling them as 'savages' and animals. It's bigoted stereotyping at best and should be unacceptable on any forum. If this be moderation....

For years, I have occasionally seen; "PB4UGO" It is probably good advise, but evidently this and POOPY are OK, and I'm not suggesting they be ruled out of order by the plate police. We used to have free speech in this country, before the politically correct took over. As far as COPSLIE, how many cops are on Laurie lists? If the shoe fits; wear it.

I recently saw a plate POOPY on the front of a septic pump truck... that's OK? I can't believe that a person of average sensibilities wouldn't find solid human excrement to be offensive.

You are correct but alot of it may not be "solid". LOL

would DMV give me a plate that says LIBSLIE or DEMSLIE

How about REPSLIE or CNSRVLI. Would DMV give these plates? Good for a laugh though sail!

What about BAMALIE or NOBAMA or OBAMBIE or LIEBAMA or DISKUSTR or NOPROGS or NOPORTR or PROGLIE or well I could go on and ti would all be the truth.

This back and forth can go on forever...lol For your information, now this is opinion mind you, every politician "lies" Sometimes good intentions go by the wayside when reality and practicality sets in. That said, the biggest lie thus far was Bush Jr's reasons for us to invade IRAQ in 2003. Those lies are still costing this country in resources and manpower. By the way you earlier, were blaming Obama for high gas prices? Shouldn't he get credit for ordering the hit OBL? You are so blinded by hate and prejudice against that "man in the office" and that everything conservative is good and everything progressive is bad, that credibility is lacking.

To gse below...October 30, 1940: "I have said this before, but I shall say it again and again and again: Your boys are not going to be sent into any foreign wars." FDR.

Bush is history, we live in the present......he went on the intelligence he had. Both parties concurred. Obamacare passage may please you because of your feigned compassion but it was done in a sneaky, dirty, underhanded and sleazy way. The Obama lied directly about the fact that you could keep your insurance.....if he knew that was a lie he should be impeached, if he was just ill informed, shame on him as a leader. I never blamed Obama for high gas prices although he is to blame as he will not allow enhanced drilling due to his ideology. I am not prejudiced against Obama because of his race, get over it. I do not like or respect the man because he is emotionless, cold, calcutating and an ideologue, narcissist and egomaniacal politician who is way in over his head. Progressivism is not a good movement as it relies on more government, more surrenduring of individual rights and more laws, rules and regulations on people so that they conform to the beliefs of the progressive ideology. Liberalism was a good movement and I would say that many conservatives today would have been considered liberals in the past. JFK was a liberal but he would blush at how far left liberals are today. Most progressives are just a hair away from the views of Castro. They would be happier living in a controlled society rather than a free society. Is that bad? You betcha!

Wow . . . what an ironclad argument for your position. Lots of facts, figures, statistics, etc. there. It's not "elementary school playground" at all.

Response to GWTW below, regarding FDR: You may recall a small historical detail that obviates any claim that this statement was a "lie": the events of Dec. 7th, 1941.

Oh..well I guess it was a domestic war then...not a foreign one. Apparently, FDR must stated aloud "I have said this before, but I shall say it again and again and again: Your boys are not going to be sent into any foreign wars"...and then whispered" unless something bad happens."...Its the same thing as the Obama lie which I remind you earned him 4 Pinocchios...if you like your plan you can keep your plan. It ends in a period, just like FDR's statement did. Not that I dont think we shouldnt have entered the war, but many many people voted for FDR because of his statements about sending boys to war.

Response to GWTW below: Keep digging, and pretend nobody notices the hole you dug--that's when posting turns into trolling.

You dont believe Obama lied...do you? Here's your shovel...start digging...

This cracks me up. First of all - he changes his name to "HUMAN?" Now he wants to put "COPSLIE" on his license plate??? I really don't think Mr. "Human" has thought this one through. Does he realize that he will now be a target for every cop to simply stop him for no reason just to mess with his day? On second thought, he probably WANTS that to happen because it will reenforce his belief that the world is out to get him. If he wants "COPSLIE" on his vehicle he can put a bumper sticker with those words on his vehicle. THAT, he has a right to do. He does not have a "right" to be issued a state-sanctioned license plate that says "COPSLIE."

Perhaps you should read this book: Rise of the Warrior Cop; The Militarization of America's Police Forces by Radley BaIko. It would not surprise me if he was stopped by cops but there lies the problem.

Hey, I've got a book for you itsa . . . "The Last Policeman" by Ben Winters. It's set in . . . CONCORD, NH!!!

A MUST READ: "The Drift toward Despotism".... Too many of our rulers and their enforcers reflexively see the citizenry as a threat. By Mark Steyn

I think the real issue here is the rather arbitrary set of rules that the DMV operates under. Whether someone wants a stupid plate or not is irrelevant that is not the real question being argued. For too long the DMV has operated it's own little fiefdom with rules that actually defy reason.

Incorrect as usual....... the 57 (for ONbama) states have an national organization with the list of banned plates. Mrs Beecher the head of NHDMV forever has been the esteemed leader of the 50 state DMV Directors and the keeper of that banned list.

Thank you, being accused of being incorrect coming from you just affirms my stance. The keeper of the list, by all means we should bow to her will, why. So now it's ok to listen because it's a national group, but where is your usual righteous indignation of groups dictating policies from a national level. Besides I couldn't care less about vanity plates.

WRONG again - 10th Amendment - The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people. This is a states matter not Federal

Hate to burst your Mr., who thinks they know all, but the present director of DMVNH is Richard C. Bailey Jr. Had you done some "real" research, you would have known this.

point out where (other than your comment) anyone suggested Beecher was the current director. reading comprehension...reread please.

"HAS" is a past tense word - probably a public school student

Sail, you used the word "has" as a present perfect. So either you knew she wasn't the head anymore and you have bad grammar or else you didn't know she wasn't the head any more but refuse to admit your mistake. And I did go to public school and very proud of it, because if the right wing posters here are the products of private schools. I am afraid their parents wasted their money.

"And I did go to public school and very proud of it, because if the right wing posters here are the products of private schools. I am afraid their parents wasted their money."...very bad punctuation there....very bad.

For Tillie: The present perfect is formed from the present tense of the verb have and the past participle of a verb: The present perfect continuous is formed with have/has been and the "ing" form of the verb. We use the present perfect of be when someone has gone to a place and returned. But when someone has not returned we use have/has gone. Hope that helps in your daily "Gotcha" life

As I said before, I can't have a battle of wits with someone who has no ammunition.

John Duval.. "Free State Project presents daily challenges for the CPD"....is a lie, giving all the honest cops out there a bad name. Notice though, no cops spoke up.

Correct and yet, he still has a job. I would like to know that the daily challenges are.......yet his simple (simpleton) apology was enough for the press (particularly the Monitor) to just not really push for the truth, instead siding with their liberal allies. As I have said before, he is a tin horn police chief. Please read: Rise of the Warrior Cop; The Militarization of America's Police Forces by Radley Balko. Then think about what Duval said. It would be refreshing of some at the Monitor were to read and review the book. It is downright accurate an scary.

There are none. I did a Right to Know and asked him for everything in the year before he made the comment. He had nothing - the comment was entirely made up.

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