Supreme Court to hear case on Texas rejection of Confederate flag plate

How does free speech fit in to the world of automobiles? That question is the topic of debate in the state of Texas, where the Sons of Confederate Veterans are headed to court to argue that the Lone Star State is oppressing its freedom of speech by not allowing a specialty license plate with the Confederate Battle Flag on it.

While the case of Walker v. Sons of Confederate Veterans will go before the Supreme Court today, the controversy originally kicked off in 2011, after Texas' department of motor vehicles "deadlocked" over the decision to authorized the SCV plate, The New York Times reports. That move lit a small firestorm, that eventually led the DMV to unanimously block the use of the plate at a later meeting in November of that year.

One of the opponents to the plate, 82-year-old African-American Rev. George V. Clark, told the board during that meeting that "It saddens me that the possibility even exists that I might still be driving around the state and frequently see something that represents hate, something that has made people feel less than human."

Gov. Rick Perry even weighed in on the initial controversy, saying, "We don't need to be scraping old wounds."

"A significant portion of the public associates the Confederate flag with organizations advocating expressions of hate directed toward people or groups that is demeaning to those people or groups," the board's decision read.

Despite this defeat, though, the SCV's cause has been picked up by a number of free speech and civil liberties groups, NYT reports, which have filed briefs with the Supreme Court.

"The Confederate battle flag was the banner for those who supported slavery and sought to break our nation apart," a brief from the ACLU read. "However reasonable this distaste for a symbol of racism, the Constitution does not permit the state to discriminate against messages in a forum it has created for private speech."

Texas hasn't pulled any punches while maintaining its opposition to the plate, though.

"A state is fully within its rights to exclude swastikas, sacrilege and overt racism from state-issued license plates that bear the state's name and imprimatur," Texas' Supreme Court brief read, The Times reports. "Likewise, a state can exclude less pernicious but still-controversial symbols such as the Confederate battle flag."

The brief went on: "States that issue 'Fight Terrorism' specialty plates," of which Texas is one, "are not required to offer specialty plates with messages that praise terrorist organizations."

Rather than the using plates with the Confederate Battle Flag, Texas has argued that supporters of the SCV should express their position via bumper stickers or window decals.

The Sons of Confederate Veterans plates are found in a number of states that seceded from the union in the Civil war, including Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia and Maryland (while not a formal member of the Confederacy, support for the southern cause there was extremely strong).

What are your thoughts? Is the state of Texas in the right, or is this an infringement of the First Amendment? Have your say in Comments.

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