With the Supreme Court hearing arguments on whether Texas should allow a vanity license plate with a picture of the Confederate flag, a senior member of the House Judiciary Committee said the plate “is not the way we should honor our American veterans who fought for a unified America.”
Justices heard arguments yesterday in Walker v. Sons of Confederate Veterans, with Ruth Bader Ginsberg musing whether, if it’s a free speech issue, states should be compelled to offer plates bearing swastikas or the word “jihad.” The Sons of Confederate Veterans replied yes, “speech that we hate is something that we should be proud of protecting.”
Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas) said the group can find other ways to remember the Confederate past.
The congresswoman held a meeting with her state’s Department of Motor Vehicles Board back in November 2011, and said in a lengthy statement that it’s “unfortunate” it’s gone to the Supreme Court in 2015.
“To many of us it would be more appropriate to honor the nation’s soldiers who supported the survival of America by celebrating the flag of the United States of America. All of us would support placing the United States flag on our license plate,” she said.
“…No one wishes to deny our history as a state. But we as leaders should take every opportunity to support that which unites our citizenry – not that which divides us. Reminding those among us of their painful past has no place in celebrating our great state.”
Furthermore, Jackson Lee argued, the vanity plate designs are supposed to “promote tourism and commerce, to create positive identity and awareness, and to showcase those riches that make our state unique.”
“The Confederate flag, long recognized in our generation as a symbol of slavery, racism, and defeat, accomplishes none of those purposes. Those wishing to study the historical significance of this flag and our Confederate past should instead turn to a book,” she said.
“This issue has been visited many times over. African Americans in South Carolina have taken offense to the rebel flag flying over its statehouse, prompting its removal in 2000. To date, it remains a sore spot. Confederate theme-images have caused the same debate at numerous colleges and schools nationwide and even locally. Texas does not need to go down that road.”
The American Civil Liberties Union took the position that the license plate is offensive, but filed an amicus brief arguing “that the First Amendment prohibits Texas from engaging in viewpoint discrimination in its specialty license plate program, which is best understood as a forum for private speech.”
The Sons of Confederate Veterans in Texas says it is “preserving the history and legacy of these heroes, so future generations can understand the motives that animated the Southern Cause.”
“Ill-intended or not, why would Americans want to be reminded of a legalized system of involuntary servitude, dehumanization, rape and mass murder?” Jackson Lee said.
“Our nation has taken pride in honoring those who fought and died in battle and welcomes those who want to observe the recognition of the Civil War; but there are many other ways to pay tribute to the dead and the cause for which they died,” she said. “Those that desire to honor the Civil War’s Confederate effort can do so in many private ways but not through a state of Texas issued license plate that represents the affirmation by the entire state of Texas of a symbol that equals fear, intimidation and oppression and the maintenance of the bondage of other human beings.”