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On The Front Lines

Sons of Confederate Veterans Claim Victory Against Virginia Commonwealth

Rutherford Institute Attorneys Win Judgment in Free Speech Case

-Attorneys for The Rutherford Institute have defeated an appeal by the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles (VDMV) to overturn a Roanoke federal judge's decision allowing the Sons of Confederate Veterans (SCV) to display their logo, which incorporates the Confederate battle flag, on their organizational specialty license plate. In today's decision, a three-judge panel on the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals concluded that "the logo restriction is an instance of viewpoint discrimination...and a violation of the First Amendment's strictures." The panel then affirmed the federal judge's decision ordering the Commonwealth of Virginia to issue specialty license plates displaying the Confederate battle flag logo of the Sons of Confederate Veterans (SCV).

In 1999, the Virginia General Assembly approved a specialty license plate for the SCV but censored the use of the Confederate Battle Flag, which has been part of the organization's logo since it was founded over 100 years ago. Although the Assembly has permitted dozens of organizations to use their logos on specialty plates, the SCV is the only group the Assembly has ever forbidden to display its logo on a license plate. On behalf of members of the SCV, Rutherford Institute attorneys filed a civil rights lawsuit challenging the Commonwealth's actions as a denial of their right of free speech. Rutherford Institute attorneys have assisted the SCV with similar matters in other states. In Maryland, the Institute fought for and won the SCV's right to display the Confederate battle flag on their state license plate. Institute attorneys are also assisting the Tennessee SCV in a similar matter.

"This is a victory not just for the thousands of members of the SCV but for everyone who has used their license plates as a means of personal expression," said John W. Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute. "The court of appeals has issued a ringing affirmation of the free speech principles that license plates are personal expression and that government officials cannot censor that expression just because it's unpopular. As James Madison said, the purpose of the First Amendment is to protect unpopular speech."

The Rutherford Institute is an international, nonprofit civil liberties organization committed to defending constitutional and human rights.

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Nisha N. Mohammed
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