2000 - California DMV Cancellation of "Redskin" License Plate

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1. Title 13, California Code of Regulations ("Regulations") section 170-00 subdivisions (c)(3)(D) subparagraphs 3 and 4" respectively prescribe that configurations on environmental license plates that amount to "a swear word or term considered profane, obscene, or repulsive" or a term that "has a negative connotation to a specific group" are to be refused by the Department as having connotations offensive to good taste and decency, within the meaning of Vehicle Code section 5105, subd. (b).

2. Under section 170.12 of the Regulations, the Department shall cancel and order the return of any environmental license plates previously issued that contain any configuration of letters that the Department later determines carry connotations offensive to good taste and decency.

3. Complainant's reliance upon dictionary definitions of the term "redskin" is not determinative. Respondent offers a definition that suggests no offensive connotation to the word, but merely defines the term as "North American Indian." Also, other modem dictionaries offer definitions supportive of respondent's view of the word as a neutral reference to Indians.

A federal court offers guidance with regard to resting upon a dictionary definition by pointing out:

While a standard dictionary may indicate how the substantial composite of the general public defines a particular word, the accompanying editorial label of vulgar usage is an arguably less accurate reflection of whether the substantial composite considers the word scandalous. Such labels are subject not only to differences in opinion among the respective publication staffs of particular dictionaries, but also to the potential anachronism of those opinions. In re Mavesty Media Group Ltd. (Fed.Cir. 1994) 33 F.3d 1367, 1.373.

4. The test in determining whether or not a configuration on an environmental license plate is offensive to good taste or decency is not that a word or expression be understood by every addressee or person who sees the word or expression. Rather, the "test is what people of ordinary intelligence... would understand from the use of the word ...... (Kahn v. Department of Motor Vehicles (1993) 16 Cal.App.4th 159, 170.)

11 Complainant in its Order Canceling Environmental License Plates does not plead that the subject term on respondent's license plates falls with the scope of Regulations subdivision (c)(3)(D) 2, that proscribes a "configuration [that] is a vulgar term; a term of contempt, prejudice, or hostility; an insulting or degrading term; a racially degrading term; or an ethnically degrading term."



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