Thanksgiving Miracle: DMV Grants Attorney Pro-Pot License Plate

By Robyn Hagan Cain on November 22, 2011 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

If you thought holiday miracles were restricted to December celebrations, then prepare to have your heart warmed.

Frank Shoemaker has a reason to give thanks this week after the Nebraska DMV respected his free speech rights - not to mention Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals precedent - and granted his request for a personalized license plate reading NE 420.

Shoemaker, a farmer and former lawyer, is sponsoring a petition drive for Proposition 19, a state ballot measure to legalize marijuana in Nebraska next year, reports Reuters.

Beverly Neth, the Nebraska DMV director, refused to issue the plate because "numerous sources that indicate the numbers "420" are used for or have the connotation of promoting the use of marijuana -- an illegal drug in this state." The DMV also suggested that '420' is associated with Adolph Hitler, born on April 20, 1889, and the Columbine High School massacre, which happened on April 20, 1999.

(Pot, Hitler, and Columbine share a connection? This case is like the legal version of Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon.)

Shoemaker and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) were having none of that nonsense, and filed a lawsuit against the Nebraska DMV last week alleging that the DMV was violating Shoemaker's free speech rights. That, apparently, was enough to make Neth reconsider the state's position.

Today, the Nebraska DMV agreed to issue the NE 420 license plate for Shoemaker's 1970 Volkswagen bus.

The law was on Shoemaker's side. In 2009, the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in Roach v. Stouffer that specialty license plates are a form of individual speech, thus censorship of license plate messages amounts to viewpoint discrimination.

Shoemaker is thankful that he can get out of the courthouse and back to the streets to promote Nebraska Prop 19. "I look forward to resuming my campaign. All I ever wanted was to work with fellow Nebraskans in the democratic process of this ballot campaign." he said in the ACLU press release.

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