The Confederate battle flag has been evicted again. On August 6, 2015, the state of Virginia announced that it will recall 1,691 license plates that feature the flag.
In 2001, the Department of Motor Vehicles was forced by injunction to allow the image on the plates—which honor the Sons of the Confederate Veterans (SCV)—because the U.S. District Judge Jackson L. Kiser found that banning the flag amounted to curtailing drivers’ right to free speech. But after the Supreme Court ruled in Walker v. Texas Division, Sons of Confederate Veterans in June 2015 that Texas did not have to approve a specialty plate featuring the flag because plates actually reflect state’s speech, Virginia governor Terry McAuliffe called for the image to be removed. Kiser agreed, ruling that his original decision was “no longer good law.” He wrote in his order:
When the Supreme Court speaks, district courts must listen. In light of the ruling in Walker, the primary rationale for the 2001 judgment and injunction in this case is no longer good law. Specialty license plates represent the government’s speech, and the Commonwealth may choose, consonant with the First Amendment, the message it wishes to convey on those plates. The Commonwealth’s rationale for singling out SCV for different treatment is no longer relevant. According to the Supreme Court, the Commonwealth is free to treat SCV differently from all other specialty groups. Because the underlying injunction violates that right, I have no choice but to dissolve it.
Though the state cannot force people to return their plates, they are sending self-addressed envelopes to owners asking them to send them back for recycling. The DMV is collaborating with the Sons of Confederate Veterans to design a new, flag-less plate, which will be sent to motorists when it’s done. At that point, the old plates will be invalidated.