NEFAC: Proposed Vanity Plate Restrictions in Maine Constitutionally, Logistically Problematic

CONTACT Justin Silverman | 774.244.2365 |


The New England First Amendment Coalition expressed concerns to the Maine Attorney General today about proposed restrictions to the state’s vanity license plate program.

The Maine Transportation Committee earlier this month voted to advance LD 130, legislation that would give the Secretary of State broad power to ban or recall vanity plates deemed, among other things, “vulgar.”

While the state is not obligated to provide a vanity plate program, once it opens a forum to citizen speech it should not discriminate against constitutionally-protected expression even if vulgar or otherwise offensive, NEFAC explained in a May 17 letter to Maine Attorney General Aaron Frey.

“We believe that at least some of the restrictions on speech imposed by LD 130 are unconstitutionally broad and vague,” wrote Justin Silverman, NEFAC’s executive director. “The restrictions will undoubtedly lead to subjective and inconsistent interpretation at local DMVs as well as future litigation against the state. The bill is also an ineffective way to further the government’s interest in protecting minors from offensive expression.”

Silverman cited a recent order in a Rhode Island case involving a similar vanity plate program. As federal judge Mary S. McElroy wrote in that order blocking Rhode Island officials from enforcing their own content-based vanity plate policy:

“Private speech in a nonpublic forum may still be regulated by the government. However, it may not be prohibited in a way that is either unreasonable or content based. Any regulation or implementation of a regulation must be viewpoint neutral.”

“The very essence of vanity plates,” Judge McElroy added, “is personal expression.”

NEFAC is the region’s leading advocate for the First Amendment and the public’s right to know about government. Most recently in Maine, the coalition helped defeat legislation that would require news organizations to publish updates to certain stories and limit the use of mugshots in reporting. Learn more about NEFAC’s work in New England.

NEFAC was formed in 2006 to advance and protect the Five Freedoms of the First Amendment, including the principle of the public’s right to know. We’re a broad-based organization of people who believe in the power of an informed democratic society. Our members include lawyers, journalists, historians, academics and private citizens.

Our coalition is funded through contributions made by those who value the First Amendment and who strive to keep government accountable. Please make a donation here.

Major Supporters of NEFAC include Hearst Connecticut Media Group, Paul and Ann Sagan, The Boston Globe, WBUR, Boston University and the Robertson Foundation.