A 31-year old US SUPREME COURT DECISION SAYS 'bracket' laws violate the first amendment! Listen up Florida, Texas and other states with similar laws!
Identifying the Maynards' interests as implicating First Amendment protections does not end our inquiry however. [430 U.S. 705, 716] We must also determine whether the State's countervailing interest is sufficiently compelling to justify requiring appellees to display the state motto on their license plates. See, e. g., United States v. O'Brien, 391 U.S. 367, 376 -377 (1968). The two interests advanced by the State are that display of the motto (1) facilities the identification of passenger vehicles, 12 and (2) promotes appreciation of history, individualism, and state pride.
The State first points out that passenger vehicles, but not commercial, trailer, or other vehicles are required to display the state motto. Thus, the argument proceeds, officers of the law are more easily able to determine whether passenger vehicles are carrying the proper plates. However, the record here reveals that New Hampshire passenger license plates normally consist of a specific configuration of letters and numbers, which makes them readily distinguishable from other types of plates, even without reference to the state motto. 13 Even were we to credit the State's reasons and "even though the governmental purpose be legitimate and substantial, that purpose cannot be pursued by means that broadly stifle fundamental personal liberties when the end can be more narrowly achieved. The breadth of legislative abridgment must be viewed in the light of less drastic means for achieving the [430 U.S. 705, 717] same basic purpose." Shelton v. Tucker, 364 U.S. 479, 488 (1960) (footnotes omitted).
The State's second claimed interest is not ideologically neutral. The State is seeking to communicate to others an official view as to proper appreciation of history, state pride, and individualism. Of course, the State may legitimately pursue such interests in any number of ways. However, where the State's interest is to disseminate an ideology, no matter how acceptable to some, such interest cannot outweigh an individual's First Amendment right to avoid becoming the courier for such message. 14
We conclude that the State of New Hampshire may not require appellees to display the state motto upon their vehicle license plates; and, accordingly, we affirm the judgment of the District Court.