Should a license plate be a license to speak your mind?
When the Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration said no, one Charles County man took his issue to Maryland's highest court.
John Mitchell of Accokeek, MD is fighting to keep his vanity plate that may have a Spanish curse word on it. It’s the M-word in Spanish, which to some Spanish speakers, means the S-word in English.
“Sh-t or like, just the bad thing, like I’m the Sh-t,” said a young native-Spanish speaker at a Waldorf MVA.
To others including the plates’ owners, who has a Chilean background, it could mean junk or,“It means uh, poop,” says a man who understands some Spanish.
“If you get something on your shoe, uh, you’re having a bad day, it’s just a sort of general frustration,” said Mitchell. The Maryland man tells WUSA 9 he got the vanity plates in 2009 but someone apparently complained.
Two years later, Mitchells says he received notice from Maryland’s MVA recalling the tags and that the word was then added to their prohibited list.
When applying for a Maryland vanity plate, it says online, “MVA reserves the right to refuse to issue an objectionable license plate,” it also says, “all messages are screened by the MVA to ensure that they do not violate our guidelines.”
“The main point I want to prove is our right to freedom of expression,” said Mitchell, who is also a First Amendment Attorney. He works heavily in copyright.
“If Dick Chaney wants to put his nickname on the plate, the state says no, that’s on the do not issue list. It’s really silly,” added Mitchell.
WUSA 9 asked some of the people at Mitchell’s own MVA about his tags and got a whole host of responses.
“I mean its freedom of speech so, yeah,” said the young man who believes the word has a vulgar meaning.
“I don’t think you should have that on your tag. To me it feels like it’s disrespectful,” said another driver.
“It wouldn’t offend me, no,” said the man who told WUSA 9, to him it means ‘poop’.
Dionne Kelly said, “I really wouldn’t want children who might know what it means to see it.”
Mitchell tells WUSA 9 he argued his case in court on September 7th. It’s now in the hands of the Maryland State Court of Appeals to decide.
He believes this is different from the Confederate Flat plate issue in that it’s a matter of the message chosen for the plate and not the specialty plate itself.