MVA won't challenge judge's ruling on tags Group allowed to keep Confederate-logo plates

March 27, 1997|By Marina Sarris | Marina Sarris,SUN STAFF Sun staff writer Ivan Penn contributed to this article.

The Motor Vehicle Administration said yesterday it will not fight a federal court decision allowing the Sons of Confederate Veterans to keep specialty license plates bearing its logo, the Confederate battle flag.

The MVA tried to revoke the plates after black leaders complained that the flag was offensive and racist, but a federal judge sided with the Sons.

"In light of the court's decision, the MVA feels it's just not going to prevail. Instead we will focus our attention on improving the program," MVA spokesman James P. Lang said.

The agency is considering possible changes to the organizational license plate program, which allows nonprofit groups to display their names or logos on state-issued tags, Lang said.

Major changes, such as abolition of the program, appear unlikely in the immediate future. Some significant changes require state legislative action -- a tall order given the fact that the General Assembly adjourns for the year April 7.

Baltimore Sen. Larry Young, chairman of the Maryland Legislative Black Caucus, said he is going to trust state transportation officials on their decision not to appeal, but he is relying on them to devise alternatives to solve the problem.

Although it won't fight in court, the MVA said it still believes it was correct to recall the license tags in January.

The Sons argued that the revocation violated its constitutional right of free speech, and U.S. District Judge Frederic N. Smalkin sided with the group last month. The state had 30 days to appeal, a period that expired this week.

As it now stands, the Sons and any of the other groups with previously approved organizational license plates may continue to use them and buy new ones. Members of 358 groups, ranging from the American Legion to the Muslim American Community, have more than 78,000 organizational plates.

However, the MVA is not admitting any new groups to the program while it decides on possible changes, Lang said. A House of Delegates committee has killed a bill that would have abolished organizational tags.

Pub Date: 3/27/97

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