Specialty License Plates: The First Amendment and the Intersection of Government Speech and Public Forum Doctrines


Specialty license plates are commonly seen displayed on cars across the United States. Certain states permit motorists to purchase a specialty license plate for an extra fee in order to allow the driver to affiliate with a particular cause while simultaneously raising money for nonprofit organizations associated with the plates. The introduction of specialty license plates bearing messages either in favor of or opposed to abortion has generated much free speech litigation across the country. The core issue in what is now a circuit split among federal courts of appeal is how to resolve the tension between the First Amendment doctrines of government speech and public forums, because the state legislatures who authorized creation of the plates, nonprofit organizations, and drivers all claim the speech as their own. This Comment argues for the adoption of a four-factor test which will assist courts in determining whether the speech at issue is either government or private speech. It further explores the underlying principles justifying the government speech doctrine, and suggests factors to be considered should courts determine that speech is neither purely government nor purely private.

About the Author

Symposium Editor, UCLA Law Review, Volume 55. J.D., UCLA School of Law, 2008; B.S., Northwestern University, 2003

By uclalaw