Calif. DMV Loses Lawsuit After Banning ‘Come on You Whites’ Vanity Plate

‘Laws giving government officials unbridled discretion to ban speech they find offensive will inevitably lead to arbitrary results…’

California Soccer Fan Wins Free Speech Case Against State DMV
Fans support the Fulham Football Club / IMAGE: Fulham1879 FanTV

(Claire Russel, Liberty Headlines) A California soccer fan can now have a personalized license plate celebrating his favorite team after winning his battle against the state’s Department of Motor Vehicles.

The California DMV had denied lawyer and constitutional scholar Jon Kotler’s request for a license plate that reads, “COYW,” short for “Come on You Whites.”

The license plate references Kotler’s favorite U.K.-based soccer team, Fulham Football Club, and their white jerseys. But the DMV said the slogan carried “racial overtones” and “connotations offensive to good taste and decency.”

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Kotler gave the DMV evidence that the slogan was not racially-based, but still, the state refused his request. So Kotler filed a First Amendment lawsuit, which the DMV settled this week.

“Upon further administrative review, the DMV determined Mr. Kotler’s personalized plate request for ‘COYW’ should not have been rejected and is expediting the approval to get it to Mr. Kotler as quickly as possible,” Anita Gore, a deputy director with the DMV, said on Tuesday, according to CBS News.

The DMV had tried to argue in court that vehicle license plates are representative of the government, but U.S. District Judge George Wu ruled that it’s unlikely “viewers perceive the government as speaking through personalized vanity plates,” and threw out the DMV’s request to dismiss Kotler’s lawsuit.

Kotler’s attorney, Wen Fa, said the DMV deliberately read into the license plate what it wanted to see.

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“The DMV’s misguided denial of the ‘COYW’ plate shows that laws giving government officials unbridled discretion to ban speech they find offensive will inevitably lead to arbitrary results,” Fa said.

Kotler celebrated the decision as a win for free speech: “The freedom to speak as one wishes in the face of government opposition to it is central to what it means to be an American,” he said in a statement. “My only regret is that it took a lawsuit to force the state of California to do what the law required of it.”

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