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Byrne v. Rutledge, No. 07-4375

By FindLaw Staff on October 08, 2010 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

In Byrne v. Rutledge, No. 07-4375, an action alleging that Vermont's denial of plaintiff's requested vanity license plate, on the grounds that it contained a religious message in violation of state law prohibiting such messages on vanity license plates, violated the Free Speech Clause, the Equal Protection Clause, and the Due Process Clause, the court reversed summary judgment for defendant where Vermont's ban on all vanity plate combinations that "refer, in any language, to a ... religion" or "deity" constituted unconstitutional viewpoint discrimination.

As the court wrote:  "Vermont, like many states, allows the owners of motor vehicles to request a "special number" license plate -- more commonly known as a "vanity" plate -- that contains a short message selected by the registrant rather than the generic combinations of letters and digits that the state Department of Motor Vehicles ("DMV") would otherwise assign. While Vermont allows residents to select combinations that convey messages on a variety of topics, including statements of personal philosophy and taste, inspirational messages, and statements of affiliation with or affirmation of entities, causes, and people, the state does not permit any "combination[] of letters or numbers that refer, in any language, to a . . . religion" or "deity." Vt. Stat. Ann. tit. 23, § 304(d)(4)."

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