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University of Baltimore Law Forum

Abstract

The Court of Appeals of Maryland held that the Motor Vehicle Administration acted within constitutional boundaries when it recalled a vanity license plate displaying the word "MIERDA." Mitchell v. Md. Motor Vehicle Admin., 450 Md. 282, 288, 148 A.3d 319, 323 (2016). The court found that the message on a vanity plate is considered private speech in a nonpublic forum, and accordingly government speech restrictions must be reasonable and viewpoint neutral. Id.

In 2009, the Motor Vehicle Administration ("MVA") issued vanity plates with the term "MIERDA" to John T. Mitchell ("Mitchell"). Two years later, Mitchell renewed the plates. Thereafter, the MVA received a complaint about the use of the term "MIERDA" on the plates. After an investigation, the MVA determined that "MIERDA" is a Spanish profanity that translates to "shit" in English. "Shit" is a term listed on the MVA's "objectionable plate list;" therefore, pursuant to COMAR 11.15.29.02(D), which authorizes rescission of plates containing "profanities, epithets, or obscenities," the MVA informed Mitchell that it would be recalling his plates.

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