CONCORD, N.H. - New Hampshire's highest court ruled Wednesday that the state violated the free speech rights of a man who wanted "COPSLIE" on his license plate.
In a unanimous decision, the state Supreme Court agreed with the arguments of David Montenegro, who wanted the plate to protest what he calls government corruption.
State law prohibits vanity plates that "a reasonable person would find offensive to good taste." But the New Hampshire Civil Liberties Union argued that the law is unconstitutionally vague and gives too much discretion to a person behind a Department of Motor Vehicles counter.
New Hampshire had argued that state workers were right to deny the plate, because the phrase disparages an entire class of people - police officers.
At spirited arguments in November, the high court panel grilled state officials.
"So if a person at DMV agrees with the sentiment, he gets the plate?" Chief Justice Linda Dalianis asked.
"What is good taste?" Justice Carol Ann Conboy added. "That seems to be the nub of the argument."
Answering a question about whether a plate reading "COPS R GR8" would be approved, Senior Assistant Attorney General Richard Head acknowledged that two different people could come to different conclusions.
Lawyers who took up Montenegro's position told the court that the accusation "COPSLIE" is a viewpoint that should be protected as free speech, not regulated and suppressed by the government.
After court in November, Montenegro - who in 2012 legally changed his name to "human" - said he thought police officers who might pull him over and have to type "COPSLIE" into their computers would amount to "the perfect situational irony."
He also acknowledged that he had been arrested twice but would not say what the charges were.
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