November 24, 2020

Victory for free speech rights in California DMV censorship lawsuit

First Amendment lawsuit filed in federal court

San Francisco; November 24, 2020: Today, a federal judge ruled that the California Department of Motor Vehicles’ restriction of personalized license plates that it considers “offensive to good taste and decency” is unconstitutional.

Chris Ogilvie applied for a personalized license plate reading “OGWOOLF,” a reference to Ogilvie’s nickname in the military. The DMV rejected his application on the grounds that “OG” means “original gangster,” which the DMV said was offensive to good taste and decency.

“This is a great day for our clients and the 250,000 Californians that seek to express their messages on personalized license plates each year,” said PLF attorney Wen Fa. “Vague bans on offensive speech allow bureaucrats to inject their subjective preferences and undermine the rule of law.”

Four other Californians joined Ogilvie to challenge the rejection of their plates:

  • To reclaim the word “queer” for the gay community, Amrit Kohli, a musician, producer and engineer, established Queer Folks Records. He hoped to acquire the “QUEER” license plate but was rejected because it was considered insulting, degrading, or expressive of contempt.
  • A lifelong fan of the band Slayer, James Blair applied for the “SLAAYRR” license plate, a nod to the metal band, but was rejected because it was considered “threatening, aggressive, or hostile.”
  • Andrea Campanile applied for the “DUK N A” license plate, short for “Ducati and Andrea,” but it was rejected because it sounded like an obscene phrase, even though the Department approved her fiancé’s DUKN GO license plate.
  • Paul Crawford, an English immigrant and owner of Shakespeare Pub in San Diego, applied for the “BO11LUX” license plate, but it was rejected because the term was said to have sexual connotations, even though “bullocks” has been used to mean “nonsense” in a national advertising campaign.

Chris Ogilvie, Andrea Campanile, Paul Crawford, James Blair and Amrit Kohli are represented free of charge by Pacific Legal Foundation. Ogilvie v. Gordon was argued in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California.

Case Documents

Ogilvie v. Gordon - Opinion on Motion for Summary Judgement
November 24, 2020 Download

About Pacific Legal Foundation

Pacific Legal Foundation is a national nonprofit legal organization that defends Americans threatened by government overreach and abuse. Since our founding in 1973, we challenge the government when it violates individual liberty and constitutional rights. With active cases in 39 states plus Washington, D.C., PLF represents clients in state and federal courts, with 12 victories out of 14 cases heard by the U.S. Supreme Court.

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