Woman Sues Over Profane Vanity License Plate

Delaware woman sues DMV over a vanity plate reading "FCANCER." Could this be a new Supreme Court case?

August 16, 2022

A Delaware woman recently brought suit in federal court after the Delaware Division of Motor Vehicles refused to issue her a vanity license plate which reads, "FCANCER."

In June 2021, months after applying for the plate, the Division of Motor Vehicles issued her a letter denying her application for the vanity plate. In the letter, the DMV stated that the plate "does not represent the division and the state in a positive manner." After some hemming and hawing by state officials, the woman filed a lawsuit on First Amendment grounds.

Under Constitutional law standards set by the Supreme Court in numerous cases, the government cannot suppress speech without substantial justification. If, however, the speech is content-neutral (i.e., it does not express a viewpoint), then the government may regulate the time, place, and manner of that speech. This content-neutral situation would likely apply to the issuance of license plates.

In this case, the DMV asserts that the denial of the woman's vanity plate is not a content-based claim. Instead, the government claims that it is content-neutral, and thus it is within its rights to regulate the time, place, and manner of such speech.

The woman, on the other hand, claims that the speech is content-based. She has a strong antipathy towards cancer (don't we all?), and despite the fact that the DMV in Delaware has standards as to what a resident may put on their plates, the woman claims that the government should not be allowed to regulate her content-based expression of her viewpoints.

The government filed a motion to dismiss the case recently and the judge overseeing the case denied the motion. This is a case to watch because it could potentially make its way to the Supreme Court in the next few years. So, be sure to watch for updates on the case at The Taormina Firm.

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