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BMV Asks Judge To Reconsider Personalized License Plate Ruling

Commissioner: would force BMV to put offensive messages on car tags

The Bureau of Motor Vehicles has asked a judge to reconsider his ruling that would force the agency to restart the personalized license plate program.

In a statement emailed to reporters Monday morning, BMV Commissioner Don Snemis said the ruling by Marion County Superior Court Judge James Osborn would "require the BMV to issue personalized plates that contain messages offensive to one's race, religion, ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation." BMV spokeswoman Danielle Dean would not comment beyond Snemis's statement, saying the BMV does not comment on pending litigation, though Snemis's statement would appear to be such a comment.

Osborn ruled in May that the BMV wrongly denied plates in the past, including one that read "0INK" to Greenfield police officer Rodney Vawter. The judge said the BMV used vague standards in assessing whether personalized plates were appropriate, which he says was a violation of the First Amendment. Snemis argued in favor of the standards, but said even if they were struck down, a judge should not be able to impose a personalized plate program. "We disagree that the statute is unconstitutional, but if that is the ultimate finding of the courts, then the legislature would be the proper avenue to create a new personalized license plate system, not the judiciary," said Snemis's statement.

The BMV suspended personalized plates in July 2013 after the ACLU of Indiana filed a lawsuit challenging what they said was the arbitrary method of approving or denying plates. The ACLU represented a man from Allen County, whose personalized plate UNHOLY was rejected, in addition to Officer Vawter. "So we amended the lawsuit to point out that not only was it unconstitutional to not have standards, the BMV commissioner doesn't have the right on his own to suspend a program set up by the legislature," said Ken Falk, the ACLU's legal director after the May ruling.

Prior to the program's suspension, Falk said there was no rhyme nor reason to the way the BMV was making decisions on personalized plates. "You had (plates that read) NOBAMA being denied, but GOBAMA being approved. It was the hallmark of arbitrary decision making, which the First Amendment abhors," Falk said.

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