DMV revokes Texas man's anti-Trump license plate

The DMV revoked Jerry Balkenbush’s license plate less than a month after he received it. (Photo by: Jerry Balkenbush via The Texas Tribune)
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FORT WORTH, Texas (WFAA) — Fort Worth resident Jerry Balkenbush was fed up after the presidential impeachment hearings and wanted to send a message about his disgust for President Donald Trump.

So, he ordered a vanity plate from the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles, and a few days before Thanksgiving, he affixed it to his 2011 Ford Mustang. The plate read: "JAIL 45."

Less than a month later, the DMV told him it was revoking the plate.

The Texas DMV approves about 1,000 vanity plates each week. It rejects hundreds every month that are considered lewd or inappropriate. Last year, the Texas DMV rejected requests for plates that said “NUDES,” “FATT BTM” and “GAS SLUT,” among others.

But rarely does the DMV issue a vanity plate only to take it back. That happened only 12 times last fiscal year, according to DMV spokesman Adam Shaivitz.

Balkenbush’s plate was revoked after somebody complained.

“I would be curious if they would be against ‘Lock Up Hillary,’” Balkenbush said of his critics.

Balkenbush, 43, took to Facebook to share his frustration. His Dec. 30 post included photos of the offending plate and part of the letter he received from the DMV. In the post, he vowed to appeal the cancellation up to the U.S. Supreme Court if necessary and asked for recommendations for North Texas lawyers.

“In my view, [Trump] is a crook and needs to go to jail,” Balkenbush said. “I really feel like it was a violation of my freedom of speech against the government.”

Although the DMV approved the license plate before it was manufactured, as all personalized plates must be, a review prompted by the complaint found it violated an administrative rule, part of which prohibits derogatory language.

David Donatti, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas, said that particular provision is vague, overly broad and, as shown by the DMV’s reversal, arbitrary. These are problems common across other states, he said.

“The alphanumeric characters are private speech on government property,” Donatti said. “The First Amendment applies to that private speech. While the states can set rules on what that speech is on government property, the one comprehensive, categorical thing that it can’t do is it can’t discriminate based on viewpoint.”