Updated Letter Against Confederate Flag License Plates

June 25, 2015

Secretary Pete Rahn
Maryland Department of Transportation
Office of the Secretary
7201 Corporate Center Drive
P.O. Box 548
Hanover, MD. 21076

Milton Chaffee
Motor Vehicle Administrator
6601 Ritchie Highway NE
Glen Burnie, MD 21062

Dear Secretary Rahn and Administrator Chaffee:

As you know, the Supreme Court held last week in Walker v. Sons of Confederate Veterans that states can exclude the Confederate flag from government specialty license plate programs. Consequently, we request that you use your authority to reinstate Maryland’s previous policy of not including the Confederate battle flag in specialty license plate designs.

The Supreme Court determined that these programs reflect expressions of government speech and therefore do not constitute an open forum for private speech within the meaning of the First Amendment. Our high court has thus transformed the meaning of messages contained in our specialty license plates into Maryland government speech, and these plates now inevitably carry the imprimatur and symbolic prestige of our state government and our people.

Given this understanding, we should not include the Confederate battle flag—the nation’s leading symbol of secession, armed rebellion against the U.S. government, slavery and racism–in our specialty license plate program. To be sure, every symbol has multiple connotations, and not everyone who displays the flag means the same thing by it. But there is no doubt that for millions of Marylanders, the Confederate battle flag’s meaning is reasonably and uniquely identified with the history of slavery, white supremacy, and racial violence. In the 20th century, after Brown v. Board of Education was decided, the flag was resurrected as a symbol of Jim Crow segregation and violent opposition to the Civil Rights Movement.

The policy question of whether to issue Confederate flag plates arose in Maryland in 1996. Back then the Motor Vehicles Administration decided to recall Maryland license plates that had been issued with Confederate flags on them. This action was struck down by the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals on free speech grounds in a decision now effectively overruled by the Supreme Court. We therefore urge you to work with the MVA to reinstate its former policy on this issue and exclude the use of the Confederate insignia on state license plates.

We hope that you will undertake a prompt review of the situation and conclude that the state of Maryland has both the legal authority and a clear reason to disassociate ourselves from a symbol that may reasonably be regarded as a “badge and incident” of slavery within the meaning of the Thirteenth Amendment.


Senator Jamie Raskin
Senator Catherine Pugh
Senator James “Ed” DeGrange
Senator Brian Feldman
Senator Bill Ferguson
Senator Lisa Gladden
Senator Guy Guzzone
Senator Susan Lee
Senator Cheryl Kagan
Senator Nancy King
Senator Jim Mathias
Senator Nathaniel McFadden
Senator Rich Madaleno
Senator Roger Manno
Senator Karen Montgomery
Senator Anthony Muse
Senator Shirley Nathan-Pulliam
Senator Paul Pinsky
Senator Victor Ramirez
Senator Jim Rosapepe
Senator Bobby Zirkin

Delegate Barbara Robinson
Delegate David Moon
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