Ind. Supreme Court: BMV does not have to resume vanity plate program

Indiana BMV

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — Indiana’s high court has agreed to stay a lower court ruling ordering immediate resumption of the state’s suspended vanity license program.

The decision means drivers will have to wait for the outcome of an appeal hearing before getting the green light to apply for new vanity plates.

The ruling, issued late Thursday and entered into public record on Monday, prohibits enforcement of a May ruling from Marion County Judge James Osborn. Osborn had ordered the BMV to immediately reinstate its personal license plate program under a new set of rules, and inform all eligible drivers that they could again apply for new vanity plates.

The order to stay was unanimous, according to court records.

The legal battle surrounding Indiana’s program has been ongoing since July 2013 when former BMV Commissioner Scott Waddell suspended the state’s personal license plate (PLP) program following a lawsuit filed by Greenfield Police Corporal Rodney Vawter. Judge Osborn’s May ruling included a series of contradictory plate denials uncovered last year by I-Team 8, which were used as evidence in the case.

The ruling also found that the BMV commissioner does not have the legal authority to suspend the program.

The BMV appealed the ruling, saying it would require the agency “to issue personalized plates that contain messages offensive to one’s race, religion, ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation.” It also asked the high court not to enforce the ruling while the appeal is pending.

The American Civil Liberties Union, representing Vawter, objected to the stay request in July, asking that Osborn’s ruling be enforced immediately. That request was rejected by the Justices.

Thursday’s stay ruling follows a federal court ruling the day before that saw the State of Michigan settle a year-old lawsuit by agreeing not to prohibit potentially offensive vanity license plates. That ruling, issued in federal court in Grand Rapids, found Michigan’s law banning personal license plates that are deemed to be “offensive to good taste and decency” unconstitutional because it violates First Amendment rights to free speech.

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