2000 - California DMV Cancellation of "Redskin" License Plate

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[The NFL football team's] marks... consist of or comprise matter, namely the word or root word, "Redskin,". which may bring Native Americans into contempt or disrepute. (p. 1748)

12. In February 1999, the Utah State Tax Commission, that includes the Motor Vehicle Division, revoked license plates that contained the term "Redskins" or any set of letters that conveyed the term. The Utah State Tax Commission, upon the direction of the Utah State Supreme Court10 that adopted the California Court of Appeal's reasonableness standard as set forth in Kahn v. Department of Motor Vehicles (1993) 16 Cal.App.4th 159, concluded that "the objective, reasonable person required to determine if there is 'any connotation that' the term Redskin is 'derogatory,' or expresses contempt or ridicule for a race or ethnic heritage... would be led to the inescapable conclusion that the term has at least one such connotation." (Michael McBridge et al v. Customer Service Division of the Utah State Tax Commission, Appeal No. 96-0095, (Utah State Tax Commission, Feb. 26, 1999.)

13. Respondent presents neither expert witness nor corroborating proof in support of his assertions that the term "redskins" does not connote a negative, degrading or disparaging reference to Native Americans, also know as Indians.

14. Respondent asserts that the rear bumper of his vehicle that now displays the subject environmental license plates bears bumper stickers with the professional football team helmet logo and name of the "Washington Redskins." However, respondent does not establish the length of time the vehicle has borne the referenced bumper sticker, nor does he prove that the clarity of the bumper sticker has not been affected by weather conditions.

15. A reasonable person could extract from the subject environmental license plates as issued to respondent a connotation from the plates' configuration that conveys the offensive expression: "redskins" as referring to the aboriginal peoples of Western Hemisphere, known in this country as Native Americans or Indians.

16. The Department has developed objective standards by which it evaluates whether license plate configurations carry connotations offensive to good taste and decency. The criteria are stated in Title 13, California Code of Regulations section 170.00, subdivision (c)( 3)(D).

17. The weight of evidence establishes that the license plate "Rdskins" is easily deciphered as "redskins." As set out on Department issued environmental license plates, the term "redskins" is an offensive, disparaging term that negatively impacts upon residents of the State of California.

10 McBridge v. Motor Vehicle Div. Of the Utah State Tax Commission, (Utah 1999) 977 P.2d 467.


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