GUEST COMMENTARY--When Jonathan Kotler applied for a vanity license plate with the acronym COYW — which he said stood for “Come on You Whites” — the California Department of Motor Vehicles rejected his request.
In a letter to Kotler, the DMV said the phrase could be interpreted as “offensive to good taste and decency.” It later told Kotler that the acronym “can have racial connotations.”
Kotler says he was referring to the widely used cheer for his beloved West London soccer team, the Fulham Football Club, whose players wear white jerseys and whose fans chant “Come on You Whites.” He explained this in detail in his appeal letter to the DMV, but still he was turned down. So Kotler, a professor of constitutional law at USC’s Annenberg School, filed suit against the DMV this week, arguing that its vaguely worded vanity-plate rules imposed content- and viewpoint-based restrictions, violating his rights under the 1st and 14th Amendments. (The DMV picked the wrong guy to mess with.)
Kotler is right, and would be right even if his acronym was intended to be offensive. If the license plate is a platform for individual expression — and we believe it is — then the state should not dictate the content of the message. The DMV is not society’s guardian of “good taste and decency.” (Read the rest.)