Skip to main content

Legal Features

Point of Law: The Confederate Battle Flag on Virginia License Plates

QUESTION: Does the Virginia DMV have the authority to cancel, revoke or repossess the Sons of Confederate Veterans specialty commemorative license plates bearing the Confederate battle flag?

ANSWER: While the federal court ruled that the First Amendment does not require Virginia to continue to issue SCV plates with the organizations logo on the plates, the ruling did not authorize the State or the DMV to cancel, revoke or repossess the SCV plates that had previously been issued by the DMV.  The authority to do that must be found in Virginia law and “as provided in” Virginia Code title 46.2.

Va. Code § 46.2-713 provides: “Every license plate and decal issued by the Department shall remain the property of the Department and shall be subject to be revoked, cancelled, and repossessed by the Department at any time as provided in this title.” 

Thus, cancellation or repossession of plates is required to be supported by some provision in Title 46.2 of the Virginia Code, which deals generally with Motor Vehicles. No provision of Title 46.2 authorizes the revocation, cancellation, or repossession of license plates under the circumstances presented by this case. 

License plates CAN be revoked or cancelled if:

  • there is no insurance or a certificate of self-insurance (Title 46.2)
  • the license plate has been used in any way not authorized by the provisions of this title (Title 46.2)
  • it’s an antique car license plate and the vehicle owner commits some other violation of the statute relating to antique car license plates, such as restrictions on use and certification of safety (Va. Code § 46.2-730)
  • it’s a disabled parking license plates and the vehicle owner violated some other provision of the disabled plates provisions, such as fraudulently obtaining such plates or altering the plates (Va. Code § 46.2-1256)
  • the driver uses the registration card, license plates, or decals illegally or allows someone else to use them illegally (Va. Code Ann. § 46.2-609)
  • the driver fails or refuses to pay any fuel taxes or other taxes or fees required to be collected or authorized to be collected by the Department regardless of whether the fee applies to that particular vehicle (Va. Code Ann. § 46.2-609)
  • if it’s a commercial vehicle and the driver has lost its federal authority to operate  (Va. Code Ann. § 46.2-609)

(Updated as of 11/02/2015)