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North Carolina Stops Issuing Confederate License Plates

Credit N.C. Division of Motor Vehicles / N.C. Department of Transportation

The North Carolina Division of Motor Vehicles is no longer issuing specialty license plates featuring the Confederate battle flag, according to a statement.

The agency said the removal of the license plate, issued to members of the Sons of Confederate Veterans organization, took effect Jan. 1, the StarNews of Wilmington reported. The move comes six months after NCDMV acknowledged it had received complaints about the Confederate battle flag appearing on a specialty license plate.

“The Division of Motor Vehicles has determined that license plates bearing the Confederate battle flag have the potential to offend those who view them,” the agency said in a statement. "We have therefore concluded that display of the Confederate battle flag is inappropriate for display on specialty license plates, which remain property of the state.”

NCDMV said it will continue to recognize the North Carolina Division of Sons of Confederate Veterans as a civic organization entitled to a specialty plate, but the recognition does not entitle it to dictate the contents of the government speech on that plate.

The DMV cites the ruling in the North Carolina Division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans v. Faulkner, a 1998 court case that saw the Confederate group sue the state for recognition as a civic organization that qualified for the issuance of a specialty plates. The Sons of Confederate Veterans won the case in a ruling upheld by the North Carolina Court of Appeals, leading to the introduction of the Confederate battle flag plate.

In its statement, the NCDMV said it remains in accordance with the ruling, which it said does not extend to the actual contents of the specialty plate.

The NCDMV confirmed it had received complaints about plates bearing the Confederate flag in light of nationwide protests over the death of George Floyd while in police custody in Minneapolis.

In 2015,demand for the specialty Confederate plate soared. That rise came after Dylann Roof, who had claimed allegiance to the Confederacy, massacred nine people at a historic black church. 

Not long after the shooting, then South Carolina governor Nikki Haley called for the removal of the Confederate flag from the state capitol.

Some drivers in North Carolina believed the specialty plate might not be available soon. Drivers purchased 1,400 of the plates that year, up from an average of 250 plates sold per year in the preceding decade. 

The DMV said it remains open to considering an alternative design and would resume with issuing a specialty plate for Sons of Confederate Veterans members upon approval. But until such an agreement is made, it will “either issue SCV members standard plates and refund any specialty-plate fees paid or provide them with different specialty plates,” according to the statement.Last summer, North Carolina Sons of Confederate Veterans chapter spokesman Frank Powell said the plates were a symbol of members for those in the organization. WRAL reported Monday that Powell said the group believes the change is illegal and that the SCV’s legal team is reviewing options.

“The DMV doesn’t get to choose what logo we use,” Powell said.

Demand for the specialty Confederate plate has waned since 2015, but hundreds still purchase the specialty license plate every year.

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Jason deBruyn is the WUNC data reporter, a position he took in September, 2016.