City Desk

City Says Anti-Statehood License Plate Frame Is Indeed Illegal


Photo courtesy Jay Goodman Tamboli

An update to the anti-statehood license plate cover City Desk told you about on Thursday! In the situation of our BMW driver on Capitol Hill who isn't apparently all that jazzed about the notion of D.C. statehood, a spokeswoman for the city, Kate Stanton, tells us that this particular cover is indeed illegal. It's technically a license frame.

In an e-mail:

In this case, there is much discussion about whether frames are included in the law. However, in the case of the picture, not only is “Taxation Without Representation” covered, but the state/jurisdiction “Washington, DC” is also covered. Since this is a specific plate identifier, along with the plate number, this frame would still be an illegal covering...

Why is the jurisdiction important? Stanton noted that a state trooper in Ohio, for instance, would be able to read the license tag number, but would have no idea that the car is from the District of Columbia. (Apparently, the iconic D.C. flag does not count!)

Because of the Driver Privacy Protection Act, Stanton was not able to disclose the identity owner of the vehicle in question. She said that the Department of Public Works could be contacted about ticketing the BMW for its license frame transgressions.

Two commenters on Thursday's post noted that there is a U.S. Supreme Court case on the books that makes the license frame issue quite interesting legally. In the 1977 ruling in Wooley v. Maynard, the high court ruled in favor of a George Maynard, a Jehovah's Witness, who objected to a New Hampshire law mandating the Granite State's motto, "Live Free or Die," be displayed on all non-commercial vehicles. Maynard was fined and jailed for covering up the slogan.

From the Oyez Project's summary of Wooley v. Maynard:

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 idea they find morally objectionable.

D.C. Shadow House Rep. Mike Panetta chimed in on Thursday's post as well, calling the BMW owner a "douche," and noting that drivers can choose a D.C. license plate without the "Taxation Without Representation" slogan.

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  • IMGoph

    if i remember correctly, there was also an instance of people getting in trouble in maine for covering up the lobster on their plate in the late 80s.

    in addition, i have seen an SUV parked on 16th street NW with the "TAXATION WITHOUT REPRESENTATION" covered up with white tape.

  • Ed

    (Apparently, the iconic D.C. flag does not count!)

    What's 'iconic' on 7th Street NW might not be so much in the suburbs of Cleveland. Can you describe that 'iconic' Idaho flag?

  • RobShaw


    The flag is based on the heraldry of George Washington. To my knowledge only Maryland has a similarly "iconic" flag (Lord Baltimore).

    The Idaho flag, like many others, has the state seal on it making it decidely local. As George Washington was the first president, first commander-in-chief, and has his face carved into rock and a city and state named after him. Yes, his heraldry would be considered iconic.

    I wonder if the per capita of DC flag tattoos is similar to the per capita Idaho flag tattoos in this country?

  • Bruce

    Some of us are more concerned that another crack addict could be elected mayor than our lack of voting rights. I would like Bitch Set Me Up tags.

    If DC were to become a state, how could congress create another control board to save us from ruin that our council will eventually bring again?

    Lets have EHN focus on reducing our federal taxes rather than a vote in congress.

  • Rick Mangus

    If the state of issue is covered up it is indeed illegal, but who the hell is this idiot Mike Panetta, shadow house rep. my ass, what tax payer tit is he sucking on?

  • Jamie

    Obviously this guy didn't want to give up his cheeky low-number plate.

    Though there's something to be said for a "BJ" plate too (which is what you get when you request a generic one).

  • Barack Obama

    Yo, Michael Grass and Rick Mangus.

    In case you didn't notice, you can put whatever the hell you want in when you post a comment.

    Probably not much to be gained by talking smack about Mike Panetta because someone posted a comment with his name and web site here.

  • Leah Ramsay

    The idea that any citizen of the United States should ‘get over’ the fact that their own, or a fellow citizen’s, civil rights are being infringed is fundamentally ignorant and un-American. Our national history, going back to the country’s founding, is built on not ‘getting over’ injustices but speaking up and fighting against them. The Boston Tea Party, slavery, privacy, equal rights for African Americans, equal rights for women, child labor laws…etc. I feel it is almost saccharine to list these past advocacy fights and ask “where would we be?” if people had done nothing and just been urged to “get over it.” But apparently it still needs to be said.

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  • Don’t Ask

    18 DCMR 422.6:

    No sign or emblem more than twenty-four square inches (24 in.) in area shall be attached to any license tag bracket nor shall any sign or emblem be so located as to obstruct from view any part of the identification tags.

    Fine: $500

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  • Uncle Sam

    Obviously this guy didn't want to give up his cheeky low-number plate.

    It's not a "low number" plate. The person used to have a BMW 2002. Just kept the plate when they "upgraded" to that BMW 318i.

  • SuperS

    Bruce, you must mean our present Mayor is going to bring the Control Board.

  • Geoff

    I would rather have the "NO Taxation" than the "Representation"
    If District residents were exempted from Fed income tax, our property values would soar. Every fat cat, rich, greedy capitalist in the US would want a home here.
    You could name your own price!