This case began in May of 2010 when the petitioner applied for a vanity car license plate reading “COPSLIE.” Several DMV employees, applying the DMV regulation prohibiting vanity license plates “which a reasonable person would find offensive to good taste,” rejected the application on the grounds that they believed the text was “insulting.” When this decision was appealed to the DMV director, the director concluded that “a reasonable person would find COPSLIE offensive to good taste.”
The petitioner then requested the license plate “GR8GOVT,” which the DMV approved. The petitioner then brought suit in Superior Court, arguing that the DMV regulation used to reject the “COPSLIE” license plate violated his free speech rights guaranteed under both Part I, Article 22 of the New Hampshire Constitution and the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The Superior Court held that the DMV’s denial of the petitioner’s request did not violate his free speech rights. The petitioner appealed this decision to the New Hampshire Supreme Court.
In its amicus brief before the New Hampshire Supreme Court, the ACLU-NH argued that disapproval of “COPSLIE” and subsequent approval of “GR8GOVT” was arbitrary and violated the petitioner’s free speech rights. The ACLU-NH’s amicus brief can be found here. The Supreme Court heard oral argument on November 7, 2013.
In a victory for free speech rights in New Hampshire, the Supreme Court held on May 7, 2014 that the DMV regulation prohibiting vanity car license plates “which a reasonable person would find offensive to good taste” violated Part I, Article 22 of the New Hampshire Constitution. Adopting the arguments in the ACLU-NH’s amicus brief, the Court concluded that the regulation was unconstitutionally vague because it is “so loosely constrained” that it “authorizes or even encourages arbitrary and discriminatory enforcement.” The Court’s decision can be found here. A more comprehensive ACLU-NH post on the Court’s decision can be found here.
Cooperating Attorneys: Anthony Galdieri and David Vicinanzo of Nixon Peabody LLP