Free speech takes the wheel: South Dakota revamps license plate policy

Free speech takes the wheel: South Dakota revamps license plate policy

The state of South Dakota will no longer be putting the brakes on personalized license plate applications because they might carry “connotations offensive to good taste and decency.”

Under an agreement to allow judgment to be entered against the state, which was submitted for court approval Friday, the state agreed to amend its personalized license plate law and the Motor Vehicle Division’s policy that infringed on the free speech rights of all South Dakotans.

The agreement comes after a lawsuit filed by the ACLU of South Dakota along with Manuel J. De Castro, Jr. of DeCastro Law Office, PLLC, of Sioux Falls, on behalf of Lyndon Hart. Hart’s free speech was stifled when his application for a “REZWEED” plate was initially denied as being allegedly “in poor taste.” Hart runs a business called Rez Weed Indeed that supports and promotes the legal selling and use of medical and recreational marijuana on Native American reservations. He intended for the requested REZWEED plate to refer to his business mission of promoting Tribal sovereignty.

The lawsuit challenged the arbitrary standards used by the Motor Vehicle Division to approve or deny personalized license plates. Under the settlement, the “carries connotations offensive to good taste and decency” standard is deemed unconstitutional and will not be applied to Hart or other people applying for personalized license plates moving forward.

“It’s dangerous to allow the government to decide which speech is allowed and which should be censored, especially when the law is already established around the topic by the Supreme Court and the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals,” said Stephanie Amiotte, ACLU of South Dakota legal director. “While it’s tempting for some to classify this as an insignificant issue, this is about so much more than just a license plate. It’s about our First Amendment rights and we won’t allow the state to chip away our constitutional rights like this one piece at a time. We’re very happy we were able to obtain a complete victory for Mr. Hart and for the freedom of speech of all South Dakotans.”

You can read the full article at Newscenter.