Will Free Speech Get a License to Drive in Florida?: A Proposal for Distinguishing Free Speech from Government Speech in Florida Specialty Plate Cases

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Vol: 8, Issue: 1

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Dillingham, Christopher Robert, II
freedom of speech; free speech; Summum; Griffin case; specialty license tag; government speech; first amendment; Constitutional Law; First Amendment; Law
article description
Specialty license plates for automobiles, which publish individual and special interest Free Speech, present a quagmire for the courts when analyzed through the lens of the First Amendment's Free Speech Clause. While citizens and groups can obtain personalized license plates that publish both symbolic and written speech, state governments often exercise strict editorial control over their license plates. This regulatory scenario raises the dual questions of who is speaking - the government or the private party - and how much constitutional power the government has to engage in viewpoint restriction in regulating that speech in this traditional government forum. The United States Supreme Court has not heard any cases addressing this unique forum. State and federal courts have used several tests to decide this issue and have reached conflicting outcomes. This lack of a uniform analytical framework to guide courts in determining whether specialty license plates are private, government, or hybrid speech allows a State to engage in what is likely impermissible viewpoint restriction. Therefore, the courts must develop a clear test that determines who is speaking in this forum and how much editorial control the State has over the viewpoints that individuals and special interest groups wish to publish in this forum.