Army veteran Chris Ogilvie’s military journey took him on four tours overseas, including Iraq and Afghanistan. To his fellow soldiers and commanding officers, and even on radio communications, Chris is known as OG—a nickname stemming from boot camp.
To his friends back home, Chris is known as Woolf. He likes the animals, has wolf tattoos, and worked on Apache attack helicopters.
After his honorable discharge, Chris bought a car—the first car he ever really cared about. Recognizing this, Chris’s fiancée offered to buy a personalized license plate as a present, and after a week of commiserating over ideas for the custom plate, she suggested the perfect plate: “OGWOOLF.”
Chris was thrilled to learn that “OGWOOLF” hadn’t already been taken by another California automobile owner and submitted his application to the DMV. Chris’s excitement turned to dejection however, when DMV officials rejected the application. The reason? DMV guidelines consider “OG” to mean “original gangster,” which is—by the DMV’s standards—too offensive for motorists.
Chris was also furious. The personalized plate represented a very important form of self-expression protected by the same Constitution and its ideas of liberty that he had fought to defend during his years of Army service.
In fact, any law that requires regulators to censor speech that they find offensive gives them free rein to make decisions that are arbitrary, biased, and unjust. Such laws are also unconstitutional, according to the Supreme Court in a case PLF won in 2018 on behalf of Minnesota voters who fought arbitrary polling-place dress codes.
USC professor Jon Kotler was the first PLF client to challenge the DMV’s arbitrary decision-making in court. His First Amendment lawsuit led to a settlement in January 2020, when the DMV reversed its initial rejection of Jon’s application for a license plate that read “COYW,” which stands for “Come on You Whites,” the slogan of Jon’s favorite soccer team.
But because California’s regulation was still on the books, allowing the DMV to act as speech police, Chris is fought back in a federal lawsuit. He was joined by four other Californians whose applications were similarly rejected on the basis of nothing more than a whim and a hunch.