In a surprise, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas sided with four liberal justices to allow state governments to refuse to produce certain license plates — a free speech issue. The case centered on a group that wanted Texas license plates to feature a confederate flag with the words “Sons of Confederate Veterans.” The confederate flag is controversial because for many it represents a tacit approval of slavery — the key issue that caused seceding states to establish the Confederacy that fought the Union in the US Civil War.
While advocates for the license plate thought their expression was protected under free speech, Justice Thomas and the others said no. They also, by this ruling, permit Texas to deny plates with swastikas and other symbolism and words deemed offensive. Texas, like many states, has a program that allows citizens to suggest license plate themes. But the state, SCOTUS says, is not barred “from determining the content of what it says.”