Appeal of Confederate flag ruling eyed legislator plans bill to ban specialty tags


Disappointed by a judge's decision upholding the use of Confederate flags on specialty license plates, state officials are pondering a possible appeal while a lawmaker has drafted a bill abolishing all specialty tags.

State Del. Clarence M. Mitchell IV, who opposes the Confederate flag on license plates, said he is introducing a bill to abolish all vanity and specialty tags granted to individuals and nonprofit organizations by the state.

A federal judge ruled Monday that state motor vehicle officials violated the free speech rights of the Sons of Confederate Veterans when they revoked plates bearing the group's logo, the Confederate battle flag. The judge also prohibited the Motor Vehicle Administration from recalling the specialty tags.

The ruling "opens a Pandora's box," Mitchell said, because it would allow any group, no matter how offensive, to obtain a special plate and put its symbol on it.

"The constitutional objections that were raised open the door to a Ku Klux Klan license plate or a Nazi license plate," said Mitchell, a Baltimore Democrat and member of the Legislative Black Caucus.

He acknowledged the bill is likely to be controversial. Members of 358 groups, from the American Legion to the Muslim American Community, have 78,872 organizational plates.

Gov. Parris N. Glendening said yesterday he will review the judge's decision and rely on Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr.'s view of possible alternatives for dealing with the flag issue. As someone who grew up in the South, the governor said, he knows the flag has been used as a "symbol of racism," notwithstanding its historical significance.

Assistant Attorney General Maureen M. Dove said the state has 30 days to appeal the ruling.

Pub Date: 2/26/97

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