The U.S. Supreme Court took different paths in two rulings delivered Thursday on cases concerning the First Amendment’s right to freedom of speech.
In Walker v. Texas Division, Sons of Confederate Veterans, the issue was whether the content on state-issued specialty license plates should be considered free speech and protected from government oversight. The case centered on the state of Texas’s rejection of a license plate design, proposed by the Sons of Confederate Veterans, which featured a Confederate flag.
Justice Clarence Thomas joined the majority, consisting of Justices Stephen Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Elena Kagan, and Sonia Sotomayor, to make the ruling a 5-4 decision. The justices reversed the Fifth Circuit’s decision that held Texas’s specialty license plate designs are private speech, and found that the First Amendment does not apply in the case of license plates, since the content on state-issued plates is “government speech,” which, according to the decision, is not protected by the First Amendment.