Home » There Is Actually One Legal Way You Can Hide Part Of Your License Plate

There Is Actually One Legal Way You Can Hide Part Of Your License Plate

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If I were to go outside right now with the roll of black gaffers’ tape I always keep on me (the result of a childhood promise made to former SNL alumnus Nora Dunn) and strip off chunks of tape, and then apply those strips of tape to my license plate, pretty much everywhere I stick that tape will land my ass in trouble with the law. I can’t cover the registration stickers, either of them, I can’t cover any of the digits or do anything that will obfuscate the legibility of any of the digits, there’s really not much I can do at all. But, significantly, there is precisely one (1) part of my state-issued license plate I can cover up, should I so choose. And my right to do that has been defended by the Supreme Court. Yes, that Supreme Court.

I know I made you jump all the way to the second paragraph and the story itself to find the answer to this, but, well, I gotta eat, and I want your precious, precious clicks. But you’ve earned it now, so here you go: the one part of your state-issued license plate you can legally obscure is the motto.

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That’s right! The motto! Or the slogan, or the mission statement, or state-approved quote, or whatever the hell you want to call it! You know what I’m talking about. These things:

Platmottos

The little bits of extra text there that are printed on the license plates in an effort to convey a bit about the character of the state or some ideas whoever was in charge of license plates at the time thought were important. But here’s the thing: if you don’t believe in whatever that motto says, you don’t have to have it legible on your plate!

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If you think Empire State, my ass, cover it up! Aloha State? More like Alwhogivesashit State! Pure Michigan? Pure crap! Lone Star? How about Lone Wang? Sportsman’s Paradise? Sportsman’s wang! First in Flight? First in this, more like it (makes wanking-off hand gesture)!

You see what I’m getting at. You don’t even need a good reason, though there are certainly good reasons to do this. In fact, back in 1975, a North Carolinian named Walter Williams III had a pretty solid reason. You see, at the time, the North Carolina license plate slogan was First In Freedom, and Williams, a black man, felt that for him and people like him, the idea that North Carolina had any special claims to being especially free were disingenuous, at best.

He covered the motto with tape, one of a number of people to do so, and was eventually pulled over as a result, at least in part:

A white Smithfield police officer stopped [Williams] and asked about the tape. After Williams explained that he didn’t believe North Carolina offers equal freedom for blacks, the officer gave him the ticket and added the speeding charge, Williams said.

Williams said that while he was explaining why he taped the slogan, “He told me if I didn’t like the slogan I ought to move.” The officer was laughing as he drove away, Williams said.

The North Carolina Civil Liberties Union defended William’s right to obscure the slogan, “to show disagreement as part of the free speech.” Williams didn’t have to wait too long to be vindicated, because other people in other states were doing similar things, for a wide variety of reasons. In New Hampshire, a man named George Maynard, a Jehova’s Witness, removed the “or Die” part of the New Hampshire state license plate slogan, “Live Free or Die.” I don’t think Witnesses believe that something like a human-run state is worthy of death oath, or something along those lines. Maynard actually went to jail as a result of his modification of the license plate.

Maynard’s case went all the way to the Supreme Court, 1976’s Wooley v. Maynard, and was decided in Maynard’s favor by a vote of six to three. Here’s a good synopsis:

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In a 6-to-3 decision, the Court held that New Hampshire could not constitutionally require citizens to display the state motto upon their vehicle license plates. The Court found that the statute in question effectively required individuals to “use their private property as a ‘mobile billboard’ for the State’s ideological message.” The Court held that the State’s interests in requiring the motto did not outweigh free speech principles under the First Amendment, including “the right of individuals to hold a point of view different from the majority and to refuse to foster. . .an idea they find morally objectionable.”

So, there you go! If you think your state’s license plate motto is stupid, you are under no obligation to display that inanity on either end of your car. Cover it up or change it if you want! As long as it’s not interfering with the overall legibility of the license plate, you should be fine. And that’s not just me saying so – the highest court in the land agrees.

That’s why if I ever move to Ohio I’m Sharpie’ing out that “Birthplace of Aviation” bullshit, because, yeah, the Wright Brothers may have been from there, but they deliberately left and came to lovely North Carolina for that historic first flight. That’s just how it is, Buckears or Buckeyes or whatever you’re called. Just be happy because you have all those astronauts and presidents and the Jeep plant in Toledo or whatever.

 

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Turkina
Turkina
8 months ago

I’d be changing that “In God We Trust” to “E Pluribus Unum” in a heartbeat.
Which is more friendly than “In God We Thrust” if I really wanted to be subversive.

Loudog
Loudog
8 months ago
Reply to  Turkina

I was thinking “In Dog We Trust”, just to see if anyone noticed.

Last edited 8 months ago by Loudog
Naterator
Naterator
8 months ago

I’m doing this to my plate, because I don’t believe our potatoes are really all that extraordinary, let alone famous.

Defenestrator
Defenestrator
8 months ago

The irony of New Hampshire trying to make it mandatory to display “Live Free or Die” is just amazing.

ProfPlum
ProfPlum
8 months ago

In NH, they covered up the whole motto. More of the original story: https://www.nhpr.org/news/2017-11-01/live-free-die-decades-old-fight-over-n-h-motto-to-get-supreme-court-shout-out

I knew someone who painted over the motto on their plates after the Supreme Court case was won.

D-dub
D-dub
8 months ago

This is all very quaint considering all the cars I see with tinted panels covering the plates that make it impossible to read the numbers from 10 feet in direct sunlight.

Stig's American Cousin
Stig's American Cousin
8 months ago

Kentucky has a couple of winners on the list:

Early 2000s, they had their “Friendly” plate with a smiling sun. I saw a few with Mr. Yuck stickers covering the sun. First time seeing that, almost drove off of the road laughing

Now they have a jet black “Friend of Coal” plate with that logo. I’ve seen black cars with that solid black plate, but with the coal logo and motto covered up. I find it funniest on a Tesla…

ColoradoFX4
ColoradoFX4
8 months ago

What about an illustration? Standard Colorado plates don’t have a motto, so can I cover up the mountains? I’m not sure I want to be associated with a geologic formation.

Hillbilly Ocean
Hillbilly Ocean
8 months ago

Of course it was in Smithfield.

Cheap Bastard
Cheap Bastard
8 months ago

Are you allowed to JUST cover it up or are you allowed to cover it with text of your own? My “right to hold a point of view different from the majority” needs a venue!

Strangek
Strangek
8 months ago

America’s Dairyland. More like America’s Dairywang!

MATTinMKE
MATTinMKE
8 months ago
Reply to  Strangek

We’re not called the land of bratwurst for nuthin!

Pat Rich
Pat Rich
8 months ago

It’s common in Utah to modify the old “ski Utah” plates with stickers that replace the skier and phrase with “board” or “bike”. Never heard of it being a problem.

DRFS Rich
DRFS Rich
8 months ago

Now I want to get an 80s Japanese econobox pocket rocket and put “ORNATE BOX TURTLE” in cool futuristic letters right down both sides.

Angry Bob
Angry Bob
8 months ago

Virginia cops will ticket you for a clear cover. If they feel like it. Nothing is allowed over the plate. So I drive around with “Virginia is for lovers!” on my car. Which I think is lame.

Turkina
Turkina
8 months ago
Reply to  Angry Bob

“Virginia is for losers!”

VanGuy
VanGuy
8 months ago
Reply to  Turkina

COTD

VanGuy
VanGuy
8 months ago

PA’s (current default) plates don’t have this apply…in fact, last I checked, even my thin black license plate frame is technically illegal here, since it obstructs any part of the plate (even if it’s just the paint and not any words).

https://www.spotlightpa.org/news/2022/08/pa-police-license-plate-frame-pulled-over-traffic-stop/

Article from last year, haven’t heard any updates on the situation.

Last edited 8 months ago by VanGuy
Turbeaux
Turbeaux
8 months ago
Reply to  VanGuy

Wouldn’t the screws also obstruct a tiny bit of the plate?

Andrew Bugenis
Andrew Bugenis
8 months ago
Reply to  VanGuy

Well, that can clearly be appealed based on the Supreme Court precedent.

The state name might need to be visible, though, and a lot of frames cover that. So it depends, if Pennsylvania was covered, no good, but if just the website was, they could appeal.

(That said, Torch, “Pure Michigan” probably can’t be covered in its entirety because that’s where the state name is visible. Covering “Pure” is probably fine, though.)

Gokartriders
Gokartriders
8 months ago

Hi all! I am the founder of Racing Blog where I share expert articles on various topics related to useful kitchen appliances. Our goal is to help you learn everything in this area more effectively. We have a lot of experience and knowledge in the field of various racing topics, and we try to pass this knowledge on to you.

RataTejas
RataTejas
8 months ago
Reply to  Gokartriders

More like wangriders

Aaron Slater
Aaron Slater
8 months ago
Reply to  Gokartriders

Racing Blog … related to useful kitchen appliances.”

Can you tell me how to improve the slices per gallon on my petrol-powered toaster?

My Goat Ate My Homework
My Goat Ate My Homework
8 months ago
Reply to  Gokartriders

Can I upgrade to sequential gear board on my plug-in hybrid refrigerator. It’s for the frosty 500.

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