Court Hears Case of Ethnic Names in Vanity Plates

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(Host) The Vermont Supreme Court heard arguments Wednesday in a case brought by a Wallingford woman who was denied a vanity license plate containing the word “Irish.” The Department of Motor Vehicles policy prohibits vanity plates from including references to ethnic heritage. Other license plate taboos are politics, sexual orientation, religion and color.

The lawyer for Carol Ann Martin argued that the Department’s policy exceeds state law, which says vanity plates can’t be offensive or confusing. William Griffin, the lawyer for the state said allowing a license plate with the word “Irish,” and not permitting plates with other ethnic terms would amount to selective enforcement.

At one point, Chief Justice Jeffrey Amestoy asked Griffin if the department would issue a license plate with the word “Blue,” since the policy prohibits references to color. That led to this exchange between Griffin and Justices Amestoy and Morse.

(Griffin) “I think color in that context means a racial color. So I’m saying green would be fine, then if you get into black or white or yellow then I think…”
(Amestoy) “Either green or red could have political connotations. There’s a Green Party, Red Party…
(Griffin) “Well, perhaps.”
(Morse) “How about just the word Shamrock?”
(Griffin) “I think (laughs) this close to March 17, that would probably get by.”

(Host) Last year, a lower court sided with the state in its refusal to allow the “Irish” vanity plate under Department of Motor Vehicles policy.

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