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Tuesday, April 30, 2024
Federal judge tosses challenge over recall of 'FCKBLM' vanity license plate
By Court House News @ 2:41 AM :: 1491 Views :: Honolulu County, First Amendment

Edward Odquina's "FCKBLM" license plate, before county officials took it away (via reddit / TheChikenWizard)

Federal judge tosses challenge over recall of profane vanity license plate

Edward Odquina wanted a license plate reading "FCKBLM." The city of Honolulu said no. A number of judges have now agreed.

by Hillel Aaron, Court House News, April 29, 2024

(CN) — A federal judge on Monday dismissed a lawsuit filed by a Honolulu man who'd had vanity license plate reading "FCKBLM" recalled by the city.

According to the first version of his complaint, filed in 2022, Edward Odquina "vehemently disagrees with [the] publicly stated positions and positions associated with" the group Black Lives Matter, "including but not limited to, defunding police departments and its assertions that many or all police officers and the criminal justice system itself are inherently racist and
violent to minorities, specifically black Americans." Odquina went so far as to purchase the domain name, "www.FCKBLM.com," which he says he used for his business named Film Consulting KravMAGA Bloomberg, LLC. According to GoDaddy, as of press time the domain is again available for purchase.

In 2021, Odquina applied for the vanity license plate "FCKBLM" and his application was approved. But a county employee evidently had second thoughts, and Odquina received a phone call asking about the meaning behind his desired plate. Odquina explained that it was an acronym for his business.

He received his plates, though later he also received a letter telling him they had been recalled as "objectionable." The letter told him he had to return his plates or they would be seized, and his vehicle would be considered unregistered. The county also threatened legal action.

Odquina sued, challenging the laws regulating vanity license plates under the First Amendment. He asked for a preliminary injunction, but was rejected by a federal judge. In 2023. the Ninth Circuit upheld the denial, finding "Odquina’s challenge went to the content of his message, rather than its viewpoint, and that such content-based restrictions are constitutionally permissible."

On Monday, U.S. District Judge Derrick Watson granted the city and county of Honolulu's motion to dismiss the case with prejudice, meaning Odquina cannot file an amended version of his complaint. Odquina, the judge wrote, had failed to "demonstrate a cognizable liberty or property interest in his desired vanity plate, and the city has provided all process that was due."

Reached by phone, Odquina's attorney Kevin O'Grady said he had not seen the ruling but that "I suspect we will appeal it."

Among other things, Odquina had argued “the government cannot possibly ban, exclude and disapprove all vanity plates that constitute messages that are ‘objectionable’ or all things or messages of a ‘sexual or vulgar nature’ because expression is ever-expanding, nuanced and both the message delivered, intentional or not, and the message received, are subjective.”

But Watson found Odquina had provided no evidence "that the city’s approval of these plates was anything other than accidental." He added: "Certainly, there is no indication that by approving these plates, the city intended to favor one side of any given debate, control the search for political truth in any way, or engage in a 'pattern of unlawful favoritism'... Indeed, it is not even clear what debate the city would purportedly be entering.”

Odquina isn't the only one to sue over rejected vanity plates. In 2020, a federal judge in California found the state's Department of Motor Vehicles had been going overboard in rejecting certain vanity license plates for being “offensive to good taste and decency." Applications for plates such as "OGWOOLF," "SLAAYR," and "QUEER" had all been rejected. U.S. District Judge Jon Tigar struck down the “offensive to good taste” provision of state law on the grounds that it was too subjective to enforce. But his ruling still allowed California to reject license plates for being profane or for expressing hate to a particular race or religion.

 

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