'Offensive' License Plate Bans Violate Free Speech, Court Says

By Andrew Leonatti on December 01, 2020

Sometimes it feels good to let your personality shine through for everyone else on the road to see.

And at other times, a stick in the mud working for the government wants to tell you what you can and can't do. Just suck it up and accept your 710 MZT license plate like every other miserable commuter out there.

But a federal judge in California wants everyone to lighten up a bit, as he struck down California Department of Motor Vehicle's regulations of banning personalized license plates that are "offensive to good taste and decency" on First Amendment grounds.


The lawsuit was filed by five individuals who had their personalized license plate requests rejected. It's not entirely clear why these requests were rejected, other than that when the government tries to regulate taste, it can get awfully subjective.

The plates in question are:

  • "OGWOOLF," which references a man's military nickname and apparent love of wolves (hey, wolves are cool!), was turned down because OG, meaning "original gangsta," was "a reference to gang affiliation."
  • "SLAAYRR," which refers to the band Slayer, was rejected for being "threatening, aggressive, or hostile." They may be loud, but they are probably nice boys once you get to know them.
  • "QUEER," was turned down for the gay owner of Queer Folks Records, who wants to reclaim the term. The DMV, however, said it was "insulting, degrading, or expressing contempt for a specific group or person."
  • "DUK N A," was pooh-poohed for someone who is just dang excited to own two Ducati Motorcycles because it was "profane or obscene."
  • "BO11LUX," couldn't get by the censors and was rejected for an English immigrant whose pub that he owns carries the motto "real beer, proper food, no bollocks." Despite that pub sounding extremely awesome, the DMV said the plate had "a discernable sexual connotation or may be construed to be of sexual nature."

"Vague bans on offensive speech allow bureaucrats to inject their subjective preferences and undermine the rule of law," said Pacific Legal Foundation attorney Wen Fa, who represented the plaintiffs pro bono.

Gotta Apply the Rules Consistently

In throwing out the standards, U.S. District Judge for the Northern District of California Jon Tigar, an appointee of Barack Obama, said the state appeared to apply the standards arbitrarily when rejecting some 30,000 personalized plate requests per year.

In a ruling sure to make teenagers everywhere giggle if they would just take the time to read it, Tigar cited how the DMV restricts the use of the number 69, except when it doesn't, referencing the state's lusty approval of a "69 LUV N" plate. Other plates the state let through include "DUK N GO" and "FN RIDE."

So the next time you're cruising on the Pacific Coast Highway and you come across OGWOOLF, give them a honk for standing up for the Constitution.

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