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Gov. McAuliffe Calls for Removal of Confederate Symbol from License Plates

Posted: Updated: Jun 23, 2015 06:05 PM
Sample of license plate design Gov. McAuliffe wants removed Sample of license plate design Gov. McAuliffe wants removed
RICHMOND, Va. (WVIR) -

Governor Terry McAuliffe (D) is moving to have the Confederate flag banished from Virginia license plates. Gov. McAuliffe announced his position Tuesday, citing the killings at a historic black church in Charleston, South Carolina, and a U.S. Supreme Court decision that said states can limit the content of license plates.

Currently, Virginia vanity plates include one that pays homage to the Sons of Confederate Veterans. The group's logo contains the battle flag. The Department of Motor Vehicles says there are nearly 1,600 Sons of Confederate Veterans plates in use. 

Following a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision opening the door for states to have a say in what goes on vanity plates, McAuliffe ordered the state's attorney general's office and transportation officials to work on a plan to phase out the license plate.

McAuliffe says the Sons of Confederate Veterans will still be allowed to have a specialized plate, but the design cannot include the Confederate flag. He says he believes it sends the wrong message and perpetuates Virginia's dark history of slavery and racism.

As the governor announced plans to phase out the plates, he said the commonwealth should move away from symbols that divide us. "I think that sends a strong signal. Let's move away from divisive symbols, let us work together, let us come together. Collectively, as I say, we can compete against anybody, but we can only do it when we're working together. We cannot divide folks, we need to unite folks." 

Governor McAuliffe has not announced how the plates will be removed, whether they will be inactivated, if the design can be changed again, or how that's going to happen. He says he, the Virginia Attorney General's Office, and the Department of Transportation will figure out how to do away with the plates.

Republican Bill Howell, the speaker of Virginia's House of Delegates, said he believed the McAuliffe administration had the authority to review this vanity plate. He issued the following statement: 

"The legislation passed by the General Assembly in 1999 was clear that the emblem should not be part of the plate design. I still think that is the case. At the time the Courts felt that was a violation of the First Amendment, but in light of the Supreme Court's latest ruling it is appropriate for the Governor and the Attorney General to review the application of Virginia law."
 

At Tuesday's news conference, Gov. McAuliffe applauded South Carolina's governor for calling for the removal of the Confederate flag from their state capitol.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.


Commonwealth of Virginia
Office of Governor Terry McAuliffe

RICHMOND – While speaking at an event today in Richmond, Governor Terry McAuliffe made the following statement in response to the tragic shooting at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, SC and the U.S. Supreme Court's decision declaring that states can restrict license plate designs:

“Before I address some very positive developments regarding my administration's continuing efforts to restore the voting rights of Virginians who were former offenders, I wanted to say a couple of words about last week's horrific tragedy at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston.

“First and foremost, I want to express, on behalf of all Virginians, our heartfelt sympathies to all members of the Emanuel Church Community, as well as the larger community in the City of Charleston.

“In the days since last week's tragic shooting, the people of Charleston have displayed unparalleled unity and courage, and they have made all Americans proud.

“I also want to commend my colleague, Governor Nikki Haley, for her leadership yesterday in calling for the removal of the Confederate Battle Flag from the state Capitol grounds in Columbia.

“As Governor Haley said yesterday, her state can ill afford to let this symbol continue to divide the people of South Carolina.

“I believe the same is true here in Virginia.

“Although the battle flag is not flown here on Capitol Square, it has been the subject of considerable controversy, and it divides many of our people.

“Even its display on state issued license tags is, in my view, unnecessarily divisive and hurtful to too many of our people.

“As you all know, I have spent the past 17 months working to build a new Virginia economy that is more open and welcoming to everyone. Removing this symbol from our state-issued license plates will be another step toward realizing that goal.

“While it is true that legislation passed by the General Assembly in 1999 requires specialty license plates for the Sons of Confederate Veterans, the legislation specifically attempted to prevent the Confederate emblem from being part of the design. Federal court decisions, however, required DMV to allow the emblem in the design.

“Last week, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that states could indeed prevent the confederate emblem from being placed on their license plates, directly contradicting the prior court rulings in Virginia. Accordingly, I have directed the following actions to remove the Confederate emblem from state-issued license plates.

“First, this morning I asked the Attorney General's office to take steps to reverse the prior Court ruling that requires the Confederate flag be placed on state license plates.

“Second, I have directed Secretary of Transportation Aubrey Layne to develop a plan for replacing the currently-issued plates as quickly as possible.

“These steps will, I hope, make clear that this Commonwealth does not support the display of the Confederate battle flag or the message it sends to the rest of the world.”
 

Statement of Attorney General Herring:

Attorney General Mark R. Herring issued the following statement after Governor Terry McAuliffe announced steps to remove the Confederate battle flag from Virginia license plates:

"It's past time to move beyond this divisive symbol, which for so many represents oppression and injustice. I applaud Governor McAuliffe for his leadership and will work with him and his team to take the steps necessary to remove the Confederate battle flag from Virginia's license plates."
 

Speaker William Howell Statement on Sons of Confederate Veterans Plate:

Speaker Howell issued the following statement Tuesday on Governor McAuliffe's announcement regarding the Sons of Confederate Veterans license plate:

"The legislation passed by the General Assembly in 1999 was clear that the emblem should not be part of the plate design. I still think that is the case. At the time the Courts felt that was a violation of the First Amendment, but in light of the Supreme Court's latest ruling it is appropriate for the Governor and the Attorney General to review the application of Virginia law."

Background

The General Assembly approved a specialty license plate recognizing the Sons of Confederate Veterans in 1999. The authorizing legislation included language that stated “No logo or emblem of any description shall be displayed or incorporated into the design of license plates issued under this section” (http://leg1.state.va.us/cgi-bin/legp504.exe?000+cod+46.2-746.22).

The Sons of Confederate Veterans filed suit against the Commonwealth alleging a First Amendment violation. The US District Court for the Western District of Virginia issued an injunction preventing the Commonwealth from enforcing the provision quoted above and ordering that the logo be placed on the plates (http://law.justia.com/cases/federal/district-courts/FSupp2/129/941/2471464/).

The case was appealed and the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with the District Court (www.ca4.uscourts.gov/Opinions/Published/011242.P.pdf.) The Commonwealth's request for a rehearing was denied in September of 2002 (http://openjurist.org/305/f3d/241).
 

U.S. Senator Tim Kaine Statement:

“I support Governor McAuliffe's call to remove the Confederate battle flag from state-issued Virginia license plates. The use of the flag by public bodies is integrally connected to celebration of the cause of the Confederacy, which is inimical to American values. With the Supreme Court's decision last week in Walker v. Texas Division, Sons of Confederate Veterans, Inc., prior court rulings in Virginia that have protected the use of the emblem on license plates are now obsolete. This is the right call for the Commonwealth and I commend the Governor for his leadership on this issue.”
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