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ACLU files federal challenge to state's personalized license plate law

South Dakota's license plate redesign set to be issued in 2023.
State of South Dakota
South Dakota license plate (file)

The American Civil Liberties Union of South Dakota is filing a federal lawsuit challenging the state's vanity license plate law, claiming it infringes on free speech.

A statement from the organization released Monday said the lawsuit is being filed on behalf of Lyndon Hart. The Division of Motor Vehicles denied his application for a vanity plate that read “REZWEED."

Hart owns a business called Rez Weed Indeed he said promotes the legal selling of marijuana on Native American reservations. According the ACLU, he requested the "REZWEED" plate to refer to his business and its mission of promoting tribal sovereignty.

The ACLU first took on South Dakota's personalized license plate policy this summer, writing a formal letter addressing the issue to the state Attorney General's office and the state Department of Revenue, which oversees the DMV. The ACLU said the policy the DMV used to deny personalized plates is overly broad and subjective.

In September, the DMV updated its personalized plate approval process. The ACLU argues the changes do not address the underlying issues with the policy regarding free speech.

“South Dakota, like other states, has created a system of protected speech through the personalized plate program and is required to comply with the Constitution,” said Stephanie Amiotte, ACLU of South Dakota legal director. “The First Amendment prevents arbitrary decision-making when it comes to expression. Although no one likes to be offended, it’s dangerous to allow the government to decide which speech is allowed and which should be censored.”

The Department of Revenue did not comment on the lawsuit.

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