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.



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  • 34 Comments
      The Other Bob
      • 11 Months Ago
      Better idea - eliminate personalized plates so we don't need a section of Government to make these judgement calls or litigate them.
        AnalogJesse
        • 11 Months Ago
        @The Other Bob
        That's the definition of throwing the baby out with the bath water.
      knightrider_6
      • 11 Months Ago
      Why not just put a bumper sticker and be done with it rather than wasting time and money?
      imoore
      • 11 Months Ago
      I've always considered the ACLU as the American Criminal Liberties Union because they spend more time defending the rights of criminals than the victims.
      Rob
      • 11 Months Ago
      Of course War Sux. The Government just doesn't want the truth to be propagated.
      b.rn
      • 11 Months Ago
      The ACLU doesn't have anything better to do? Things must be going pretty darned well otherwise if this is worth throwing lawyers at.
        Darren McLellan
        • 11 Months Ago
        @b.rn
        Hmm. Guess you have no need for freedom of speech eh?
          b.rn
          • 11 Months Ago
          @Darren McLellan
          This has nothing to do with freedom of speech. If he wants to say "war sucks" (spelled correctly) on his car, get a bumper sticker. No one is saying he can't do that. It's not the state's responsibility to provide the means by which you can relay your message.
      David
      • 11 Months Ago
      The states agencies have the authority to deny any vanity plate they deem unsavory period. If these people want to post some statement on their car they are free to do so. This controversy and the ACLU demonstrates the problem with giving financial support to the ACLU. They often support law suites defending some issues that shouldn't be supported. I do see them take cases that I support, but too often they support issues they have no right to get involved in. They need to smarten up if they want the public to support them.
        Darren McLellan
        • 11 Months Ago
        @David
        That is how civil liberties work. We may not agree with them all the time, but we need to fight for them. IMHO, if the ACLU did NOT PO someone, regardless the issue, then it is probably not a real civil right.
      royv
      • 11 Months Ago
      I have thought about getting a plate that says "aclu sux"
        The Other Bob
        • 11 Months Ago
        @royv
        The ACLU would defend your right to have it.
        • 11 Months Ago
        @royv
        [blocked]
      Scooter
      • 11 Months Ago
      Just get a vinyl cut out done and paste it on your car. I saw the same type of Cadillac with a message on its back glass saying "Sh**tin'on'dem". Seriously, people these days think the public cares about their vanity plates and whatever silly message it says on it. You want to change the world? Vote for politicians that actually will, go do some community service, go help refugees and starving people in 3rd world nations. Just so everybody knows, "War" does not suck, only leaders and nations that use it to harm others with petty interests in mind. Those fighting legitimate wars, or who have fought in wars with a truly humane interest shouldn't be mocked with such blanket phrases such as "War sux", without necessary wars, you wouldn't have the freedom to even attempt to post whatever ignorant statements on your luxury vehicles.
      brian
      • 11 Months Ago
      Can I sue the ACLU for irritating me?????
      Scooter
      • 11 Months Ago
      A war gave us the freedom to pursue whatever ignorant messages we want on our cars.
      churchmotor
      • 11 Months Ago
      "Barry SUX Larry Sinclair"
      CM
      • 11 Months Ago
      It's very interesting to read comments that SUX is not or cannot be offensive. Do those commenters suppose the word refers to a vacuum cleaner? The word SUCKS or SUX in those contexts is simply, plainly a sexual innuendo despite its widespread use making it seem a common inoffensive qword to express displeasure about something. For those not numb to its meaning, it can be offensive.
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