A vanity license plate allows drivers some degree of personalization, but states keep close tabs on them to make sure they don’t say anything violent like “kilevy1,” or crude words or phrases. Some drivers feel their states are overreaching on what are mostly harmless plates. The Charlotte Observer reports that one driver is suing to get her plate back.
Leah Gilliam is a gamer and an astronomy enthusiast. So 10 years ago when she got her vanity plate, she thought everything was fine. That is until May when she found her plate had been rejected by the state. The plate says “69PWNDU” which is a reference to the year of the moon landing and a gamer reference. PWNDU is a reference to “pwned you” which is something you’d say after you won a match in Call of Duty or Fortnite. Gilliam filed a suit saying that the rejection of her plate infringes on her first amendment rights to free speech. From the Observer:
“Ms. Gilliam’s harmless vanity plate is transparently protected by the First Amendment, and the only illegality involved is the Tennessee Department of Revenue’s decision to violate her First Amendment rights,” said Daniel A. Horwitz of Horwitz Law PLLC, who is representing Gilliam.
The lawsuit names the commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Revenue and the state Attorney General as defendants.
Despite driving around for 10 years with the plate, the state is just now saying it’s offensive. The state declined to comment, only responding by quoting the state’s statute, which leaves more questions than it answers:
“Generally, Tenn. Code Ann. § 55-4-210(d)(2) prohibits the Tennessee Department of Revenue from issuing a personalized license plate that ‘may carry connotations offensive to good taste and decency or that are misleading,’” the spokesperson said. “Tenn. Code Ann. § 55-5-117 authorizes the revocation of a motor vehicle registration plate that was erroneously issued contrary to the law.”
Gilliam received her letter of rejection from the state on May 25 saying her registration couldn’t be renewed if she didn’t return the plate. She was also threatened with a fine and jail time for failure to return it. That seems a bit harsh for something that the people enforcing the law probably don’t even understand. If something like this plate can be deemed indecent 10 years later, why was it approved in the first place? This is exactly why we don’t want our government censoring people or deciding what is and isn’t decent.