Friday, April 01, 2011

Sons of Confederate Veterans Win Major Federal Court Battle over Establishment of Florida Confederate Heritage Specialty Plate

Court rules that specialty plates are “free speech,” throws out Florida Statute as “unconstitutional infringement.”

(Orlando) Federal District Judge John Antoon II has issued an order declaring the Florida statute that governs the procedure for Florida specialty plates “unconstitutional” and an infringement of free speech guarantees provided by the First Amendment.

Antoon ruled in favor of the Sons of Confederate Veterans (Florida Division) in a lawsuit that was filed over two (2) years ago following the failure of the Florida Legislature and the Florida Division of Motor Vehicles to approve a “Confederate Heritage” specialty license plate.

The SCV had completed all statutory requirements for a specialty plate and was then denied the issuance of a plate for “political reasons” by the Florida Legislature.  “Judge Antoon ruled for the First Amendment and for the SCV based on the Constitution and for that we are very pleased and grateful,” stated SCV spokesman and Vice President John Adams.

Orlando attorney Fred O‟Neal represented the SCV in this successful lawsuit. The ruling for the SCV and against the State of Florida allows the SCV to seek and be granted attorneys‟ fees in this case that could amount to in excess of $100,000.  “Now that the statute has been stricken that prevented our plate from DMV approval, we will go back to the Legislature, with Federal order in hand, and insist on the establishment of the „Confederate Heritage‟ plate and we will be successful,” Adams concluded.

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UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
MIDDLE DISTRICT OF FLORIDA
ORLANDO DIVISION
Case No. 6:09-cv-134-Orl-28KRS

SONS OF CONFEDERATE VETERANS,
FLORIDA DIVISION, INC., JOHN W.
ADAMS,

Plaintiffs,
-vs-

JEFFREY H. ATWATER, RAY SANSOM,
ANDY GARDINER, RICHARD
GLORIOSO, MICHAEL DAVIS,
ELECTRA THEODORIDES-BUSTLE,
Defendants.
______________________________________
ORDER

“The Sons of Confederate Veterans, Florida Division (“SCV”) and its vice president, John W. Adams (“Adams”) (collectively “Plaintiffs”), challenge the constitutionality of statutes establishing Florida’s specialty license plate program. This challenge arises as a result of the Florida Legislature’s failure to approve issuance of SCV’s proposed “Confederate Heritage” specialty plate featuring depictions of five Confederate flags and two coat buttons worn by Confederate soldiers from Florida.

Plaintiffs contend that Florida’s specialty license plate program constitutes a public forum for private speech. Plaintiffs further argue that the Florida Statutes grant unfettered discretion to the Florida Legislature to limit speech in violation of the rights of SCV’s members to free speech and equal protection as guaranteed by the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution.

I agree.

Florida’s specialty license plate program implicates private speech rights, and section 320.08053, Florida Statutes (2009), is unconstitutional to the extent it grants the Florida Legislature discretion to decline approval of an application for a specialty license plate based on the sponsor’s viewpoint.” Judge Antoon II