Maine Is Taking Away Offensive Vanity Plates After Bringing Back Rules About the Whole Thing

Maine threw out the vetting process for vanity plate applications a few years ago. That turned out to be a bad idea.

byLewin Day|
Culture photo

The state of Maine is set to crack down on vulgar vanity license plates.

As reported by AP News, the state had taken a fairly lackadaisical approach to approving vanity plates in recent years. State lawmakers had largely eliminated any oversight in the process in 2015, in the wake of legal challenges to vanity plate rules in neighboring New Hampshire. Fearing its own license plate rules wouldn't hold up in court, Maine stripped back its vetting process to save the trouble. Now, it's brought it back and will even begin recalling some of the most offensive plates that got approved under the free-for-all system.

Vanity plate rules have at times bumped up against First Amendment rights to free speech. California's rules against "offensive" plates were found unconstitutional by a Federal judge in 2020, though the ruling did not prevent the state from prohibiting outright hate speech or profanity.

The lack of enforcement led to a proliferation of dirty vanity plates in Maine. Various custom plates feature references to sex acts, genitalia, or straight-up profanity. The sheer level of vulgarity led to a website that lets one search vanity plates in Maine to see if they're real. Content warning for the squeamish: Mainers have secured everything from "FUCK BOI" to "IMCUMMN" and others I'm not bold enough to write here for fear of jeopardizing my continued employment.

A real vanity plate registered in the state of Maine. Weatherkidnh, WIkimedia Commons, CC-BY-SA-4.0

Maine decided to reinstate rules last year, directing the Bureau of Motor Vehicles to resume vetting plates. The new rules prohibit plates that use profanity, obscenities, or incite violence. References to genitalia and sex acts are also banned. Derogatory language regarding "age, race, ethnicity, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, ancestry or national origin, religion or physical or mental disability" is also not allowed.

Plates that indicate a false association with public institutions or government agencies are not allowed, either. Tricksters will also be disappointed. Slang terms, abbreviations, phonetic spellings, and mirror-image tricks that fall foul of the rules above will also be denied.

A committee has been formed to process new vanity plate requests. It will also consider complaints submitted by the public.

Not only will Maine ban vulgar plates going forward, it will also begin issuing recalls on existing dirty plates. Of 124,000 vanity plates in Maine, authorities expect to recall approximately 400 offensive plates. 40 recall letters have already been issued according to authorities, with more to follow in coming weeks.

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