NH man argues DMV’s denial of ‘COPSLIE’ license plate violates his free speech rights

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Associated Press
Nov 08, 2013

A New Hampshire man told the state’s highest court Thursday that denying him a vanity license plate that reads “COPSLIE” violates his political free speech rights.

David Montenegro, of Farmington, said he wanted the plate because he feels it epitomizes government corruption.

Lawyers for the New Hampshire Civil Liberties Union, who joined the case, say the current DMV regulation is unconstitutionally vague and vests too much discretion in a person behind a counter. The policy prohibits vanity plates that “a reasonable person would find offensive to good taste.”

“So if a person at DMV agrees with the sentiment, he gets the plate?” Chief Justice Linda Dalianis asked during a spirited half-hour of arguments.

“What is good taste?” Justice Carol Ann Conboy asked. “That seems to be the nub of the argument.”

Senior Assistant Attorney General Richard Head argued that state workers were right to deny Montenegro the plate in 2010, because the phrase accuses an entire class of people — police officers — of moral turpitude.

“I don’t deny you might get two different decisions from two different people,” Head said in response to a question about whether a plate reading “COPS R GR8″ would be approved.

Anthony Galdieri, an attorney representing the civil liberties union, argued that an accusation is nothing more than viewpoint.

Justice Gary Hicks questioned how the court could restrict someone’s ability to have an opinion. Head replied that Montenegro’s plate preference was an allegation, not an opinion.

Gilles Bissonnette, another NHCLU attorney, said “COPSLIE” is political speech that is being regulated and suppressed by the government.

“There’s no way to objectively enforce this regulation,” Bissonnette said.

After court, Montenegro — who last year legally changed his name to “human” — said he thought police officers who might pull him over and have to type “COPSLIE” into their computers would amount to “the perfect situational irony.” He said he was confident the court would invalidate the DMV provision, despite opening his argument by telling the justices that the only reason the case had reached their level was because of a corrupt judiciary.

He also acknowledged that he had been arrested twice, but would not say what the charges were.

The justices did not indicate when they would rule.

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  6 comments for “NH man argues DMV’s denial of ‘COPSLIE’ license plate violates his free speech rights

  1. Ed
    November 9, 2013 at 12:06 pm

    Wonder if they’d like the plate that reads “COPSUK”. Did it never occur to this guy, “human” that he could have 100 bumper stickers printed that read the same thing and distribute them free for less than he paid for the license plate?

    • Eightsouthman
      November 10, 2013 at 9:58 am

      Ed, obviously that doesn’t answer the question posed. I’ve always had a thing about how license plates were “allowed” too. I had a great one in the early 80′s but can’t remember what it was. It would be fairly much nothing now and seemed like someone did eventually get it. The word “arbitrary” comes to mind. I have a real problem with the whole state govt. anyway. I bought a boat and never got the title. I had to pay the fee which was quite high because the boat was pretty new, all over again and go through the process again even though the failure was on the DMV’s part. Pissed me off highly.

    • Eric_G
      November 10, 2013 at 11:12 am

      I doubt they would allow COPSSUK, because SUK can imply oral sex. As we’ve seen with the famous “Hooker” case (where the motorist applied for a vanity plate of his last name, Hooker), anything considered a violation of community decency standards.

      I have an amateur radio plate (not technically a vanity plate in Colorado, but sent in on the same form). There are all sorts of rules about what can and cannot be used, most of them might be open to interpretation, but because they can fall back on the “driving is a privilege” rule they get away with whatever they think is proper.

      • Eric_G
        November 10, 2013 at 11:14 am

        That should read “anything considered a violation of community standards can and will be denied.”

        I need to buy Mr Peters an edit button…

        • Eightsouthman
          November 10, 2013 at 12:14 pm

          Eric, I miss the old way it was.

    • human
      May 15, 2014 at 8:18 pm

      > Did it never occur to this guy, “human” that he could have 100 bumper stickers printed that read the same thing and distribute them free for less than he paid for the license plate?

      The publicity that this supreme court case has gotten, making its appearance in newspapers, TV, and on literally thousands of Web sites, far exceeds what a single license plate could ever do.

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