Walker v. Texas Division, Sons of Confederate Veterans - Wikipedia

Walker v. Texas Division, Sons of Confederate Veterans
Argued March 23, 2015
Decided June 18, 2015
Full case nameJohn Walker, III, Chairman, Texas Department of Motor Vehicles Board, et al., Petitioners v. Texas Division, Sons of Confederate Veterans, Inc., et al.
Docket no.14-144
Citations576 U.S. 200 (more)
135 S. Ct. 2239; 192 L. Ed. 2d 274
Case history
PriorSummary judgment granted, Texas Division, Sons of Confederate Veterans v. Vandergriff, No. 1:11-cv-01049 (W.D. Tex. April 12, 2013); reversed, 759 F.3d 388 (5th Cir. 2014); cert. granted, 135 S. Ct. 752 (2014).
Court membership
Chief Justice
John Roberts
Associate Justices
Antonin Scalia · Anthony Kennedy
Clarence Thomas · Ruth Bader Ginsburg
Stephen Breyer · Samuel Alito
Sonia Sotomayor · Elena Kagan
Case opinions
MajorityBreyer, joined by Thomas, Ginsburg, Sotomayor, Kagan
DissentAlito, joined by Roberts, Scalia, Kennedy
Laws applied
U.S. Const. amend. I

Walker v. Texas Division, Sons of Confederate Veterans, 576 U.S. 200 (2015), was a United States Supreme Court case in which the Court held that license plates are government speech and are consequently more easily regulated/subjected to content restrictions than private speech under the First Amendment.

The Texas Division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans sought to have a specialty license plate issued in the state of Texas with an image of the Confederate Battle Flag. The request was denied prompting the group to sue, claiming that denying a specialty plate was a First Amendment violation.[1]

Opinion of the Court[edit]

The majority opinion, written by Associate Justice Stephen Breyer, relied heavily on the Court's 2009 decision in Pleasant Grove City v. Summum, which stated that a city in Utah was not obliged to place a monument from a minor religion in a public park, even though it had one devoted to the Ten Commandments. The court ruled that refusing the minor monument was a valid expression of government speech that did not infringe on the First Amendment's guarantee of free speech.[1] Breyer wrote that the inclusion of a message on a state-issued license plate implies government endorsement of that message, and that car owners "could simply display the message in question in larger letters on a bumper sticker right next to the plate."[1]

Justice Samuel Alito wrote the dissent, arguing that specialty license plates are more commonly regarded as a limited public forum for private expression, consisting of "little mobile billboards on which motorists can display their own messages". Therefore, rejecting the design basically amounts to viewpoint discrimination.[2]

Charleston shooting[edit]

Because of the proximity in time of the Supreme Court's decision with the Charleston church shooting in 2015, the decision was discussed in the media in relation to a controversy that arose in response to the shooting. The massacre was directed at nine African American churchgoers at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church. The most notable victim of the shooting, Clementa C. Pinckney, was a senior pastor of the church and the youngest African American man elected to the South Carolina General Assembly in 1996 at the age of twenty-three; the alleged killer, Dylann Roof, was depicted in images with Confederate battle flags on his infamous white supremacist website, including one with a Confederate flag on his license plate. At the time of the shooting, the Confederate battle flag flew on the South Carolina State House grounds.

As an example of Walker's relevance to the controversy, six days after the Charleston shooting, three state governors—Terry McAuliffe of Virginia (a Democrat), Pat McCrory of North Carolina (a Republican), and Larry Hogan of Maryland (a Republican)—announced plans to seek discontinuation of their state's Confederate flag specialty license plates.[3] The governors cited the Supreme Court's decision in Walker in support of their position.[3]

Associate Justice Alito, writing for the dissent, discussed the meaning of the Confederate flag to different social groups:

The Confederate battle flag is a controversial symbol. To the Texas Sons of Confederate Veterans, it is said to evoke the memory of their ancestors and other soldiers who fought for the South in the Civil War. To others, it symbolizes slavery, segregation, and hatred.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Liptak, Adam (June 18, 2015). "Supreme Court Says Texas Can Reject Confederate Flag License Plates". The New York Times. Retrieved June 19, 2015.
  2. ^ Walker v. Texas Division, Sons of Confederate Veterans, No. 14-144, 576 U.S. ___ (2015).
  3. ^ a b Jess Bravin, "Governors Seek to Curb Confederate Flag License Plates: Moves follow Charleston mass killing, Supreme Court ruling", Wall Street Journal (June 23, 2015).

External links[edit]

External audio
audio icon Walker v. Texas Div., Sons of Confederate Veterans, Inc., Supreme Court Oral Argument, 03/23/15