Specialty license plates that display the Confederate flag are no longer valid in Virginia, but drivers are refusing to give them up.
USA Today reports that a 5-4 Supreme Court decision in June freed up states to get rid of specialty license plates without violating the First Amendment. Prior to that decision, nine states had offered specialty plates that bore some type of reference to the Confederate flag.
When Texas refused to issue Confederate flag license plates, unhappy drivers took them to court.
According to the Supreme Court decision, specialty plates are a form of government speech, which does not fall under the confines of the First Amendment.
“Because Texas’s specialty license plate designs constitute government speech, it was entitled to reject a proposal for plates featuring a Confederate battle flag.”
In the split decision, Justice Alito filed a dissenting opinion and was joined by Justices Scalia, Kennedy, and Chief Justice Roberts.
With the decision in place, government officials in Virginia decided to stop issuing specialty plates that bore a depiction of the Confederate flag.
The emblem on the plates was actually a depiction of the Battle Flag of the Army of Northern Virginia, framed with the text “Sons of Confederate veterans 1896.”
When the Confederate flag plates were discontinued in Virginia, new plates were issued and sent out to owners of the now invalid plates, all of whom were members of the Sons of Confederate Veterans.
According to USA Today, 1,600 new plates were sent out in September. About a month later, the Virginia DMV had only received only 163 Confederate flag plates back.
The other 90 percent of the plates belong to Virginia drivers who refuse to hand them over. The old plates expired on October 4, but many drivers have left them on their vehicles anyway.
Local news outlet WVEC reports that some Virginia drivers are even willing to go to jail if it comes to that.
“I have a great-great-great grandfather who fought and died with the 5th Georgia Infantry. And his four brothers all died with him in the name of that flag,” Kevin Collier, a member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, told WVEC. “I will go to jail before I change those tags.”
Although the Confederate flag plates are not technically illegal, or even banned, they are no longer valid, and the state of Virginia will no longer issue new ones. That means that driving a vehicle with Confederate flag plates in Virginia is illegal, due to the fact that the plates are not active.
According to WVEC, operating a motor vehicle with inactive plates is a class 2 misdemeanor in the state of Virginia.
Kevin Collier, and others like him, appear willing to do jail time, and it looks like they actually could.
According to Virginia Decoded, the penalty for a class 2 misdemeanor in Virginia can involve a fine, jail time, or both.
(b) For Class 2 misdemeanors, confinement in jail for not more than six months and a fine of not more than $1,000, either or both.
Sentiment regarding the Confederate flag, and items like license plates that commemorate it, are split in states like Virginia. According to USA Today, some say that they are simply honoring their ancestors by flying the Confederate battle flag or using license plates with its likeness, while others see it as a vile symbol of racism and a throwback to the Jim Crow era.
Was the Supreme Court was right to rule that custom license plates, which are designed and paid for by private citizens, are government speech? And whether or not they made the right choice, do you think Collier, and the other 90 percent of Virginia drivers who refused to send their Confederate battle flag license plates back, will actually end up doing time?
[Photo credit: Joseph Sohm / Shutterstock]