ACLU Sues State Over Vanity Plate Denials

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) - The American Civil Liberties Union has filed suit in U.S. District Court challenging the way the state denies requests for names on vanity license plates.

The ACLU said the Bureau of Motor Vehicles' arbitrary banning of many of the requests violates the free-speech guarantees of the Constitution.

The suit asks for preliminary and permanent injunctions against the bureau.

Raymond Vasvari, legal director in the ACLU's Ohio chapter, said the state probably can legally prohibit obscenities and racial slurs, but contends that banning other types of expression is unconstitutional.

The organization sued on behalf of Anthony Zucco of Niles, whose application for a vanity plate reading "RDRAGE" has been rejected by the bureau two years in a row.

Zucco owns a classic show auto that he has nicknamed "Road Rage," and wanted a vanity plate to reflect that name, Vasvari said.

Motor-vehicle officials told Zucco his application was rejected because "road rage kills people," Vasvari said.

"The state needs to adopt a more objective, less subjective set of regulations," Vasvari Thursday said in an impromptu news conference outside the federal courthouse.

Vasvari said other phrases that have been rejected recently by the bureau include "BOOTLGR," referring to a bootlegger; "NUKUM," referring to a nuclear attack; "IH8BLU," referring to an Ohio State fan's negative feelings toward the University of Michigan; and "BEERRUN."

Julie Stebbins, a BMV spokeswoman, said the agency bases its decisions involving vanity-plate names on state law. She declined to comment further.

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