Pubdate: Tue, 22 Nov 2011
Source: Omaha World-Herald (NE)
Copyright: 2011 Omaha World-Herald Company
Author: Joe Duggan
Bookmark: (Cannabis - Popular)


LINCOLN - Nebraska has snuffed out a lawsuit by agreeing to issue a 
marijuana-themed personal license plate to an activist leading a 
legalization drive in the state.

The Nebraska Department of Motor Vehicles agreed Friday to sell the 
"NE420" plate to Frank Shoemaker of Holbrook, a lawyer working to put 
marijuana legalization on the 2012 ballot. The department previously 
denied the plate because the number "420" is associated with "a date 
and time for people to gather and smoke marijuana/cannabis," said 
Beverly Neth, department director.

Shoemaker, with the backing of Nebraska ACLU, filed a federal lawsuit 
Thursday, arguing that the denial infringed on his First Amendment 
right to free speech. The lawsuit brought the dispute to the 
attention of Nebraska Attorney General Jon Bruning, who quickly 
advised the department to issue the plate based on similar federal 
cases in other states.

"They deemed it was probably a plate that might prevail at a federal 
level," Neth said. "They deemed it was best to go ahead and issue the plate."

DMV officials based their denial on state law that prohibits messages 
that "express, connote or imply any obscene or objectionable words or 
abbreviations." In addition to its pot connections, April 20 is the 
birthday of Adolf Hitler and date of the Columbine High School 
shootings in Colorado.

Staff members review all applications and routinely use the "obscene 
or objectionable" standard to reject applicants. Some of Nebraska's 
60,000 message plates have even been recalled after the DMV received 
complaints from other motorists, Neth said.

While the courts have upheld the authority of states to reject 
obscene messages on license plates, they have cautioned that blocking 
plates simply because they offend someone is too broad of a standard, 
said Amy Miller, director of Nebraska ACLU.

The 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals recently decided a case in 
Missouri in which the applicant wanted "Aryan1" on her plate.

Missouri officials rejected it because it was offensive, but the 
court invalidated the decision because it infringed upon 
constitutionally protected free expression, Miller said.

"The problem with offensive messages is that is simply too vague," 
she said. "Something that is offensive for me on 'The Simpsons' is 
perfectly acceptable for viewing on prime-time television."

Miller said she was unaware of other plate applicants who have fought 
denials. She stressed that both Shoemaker and the ACLU asked the DMV 
to reverse the denial before moving ahead with the lawsuit.

Proposition 19 seeks to legalize the private noncommercial use of 
cannabis in Nebraska. Shoemaker argued that denying his license 
application was an effort to silence a call to legalize pot.

"No one should have to fear government censorship for his political 
views," Shoemaker said Monday in a press release.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom