Vanity plates are a great way to test a state's limits on freedom of expression, which makes them good kindling for lawsuits. The latest license litigation comes from Michigan, where the American Civil Liberties Union has brought suit on behalf of a plaintiff against the state for rejecting the plate "WAR SUX."
The ACLU represents David DeVarti, who applied for the plate but was told it had been rejected on grounds that "selections cannot be offensive to good taste or decency." According to one report, attorneys for Michigan's Secretary of State said "the plate would be offensive to children who amuse themselves by reading plates on passing vehicles." That same report said the state has asserted in court filings that "personalized license plates are intended to raise money, not create a forum for speech."
Michigan resident and Iraq War veteran Michael Matwyuk was also named as a plaintiff in the suit. Matwyuk had applied for "INF1DL," citing the use of the word as a term of endearment among members of his unit because the insurgents they were fighting called them "infidels." Upon joining the suit, the Secretary of State granted Matwyuk the plate Matwyuk wanted, but his name remains on the case. The affair is ongoing, with everyone going back to court next month for the next round. You can watch a news report about Matwyuk's case in the video below.
Controversy over personalized plates are nothing new – there was the man in Georgia last January who was denied gay-themed plates, the PETA member in Tennessee denied the right to express her love of tofu back in 2011, the New Hampshire man prohibited from making a statement on the truthiness of the police just a couple of months ago, and a Texas group of Confederate Army mavens who had their 2011 application for a plate shot down.
It goes the other way, too: a man in Oklahoma, citing his Christian beliefs, sued the state last year when it issued plates depicting a Native American in the act of trying to summon a rain god.