Nashville Woman Sues State For Banning Her 'Offensive' License Plate

By Sarah Tate

July 1, 2021

Photo: Getty Images

A woman in Nashville is suing Tennessee officials after they labeled her vanity license plate as "offensive."

Leah Gilliam has had the same vanity tag for 10 years, but it wasn't until recently that officials with the Tennessee Department of Revenue sent a letter informing her that she'd have to pick a new plate because her current one was "deemed offensive," News Channel 5 reports.

So if the tag is considered offensive enough to ban, what does it say?


According to Gilliam's attorney, Daniel A. Horowitz, the plate is intended to represent her interests in astronomy and gaming and is not an indicator of anything objectionable or distasteful.

"To celebrate her interests, she sought, received, and – for more than a decade – has harmlessly displayed the [vanity plate] on her car, which combines the year of the moon landing with a gaming term," he said.

Gilliam and Horowitz claim the plate honors when the U.S. landed on the moon in 1969 and pays tribute to her love of gaming with the slang term "pwned," meaning when one gamer defeats another, FOX 17 reports.

Gilliam filed a lawsuit against Tennessee Department of Revenue Commissioner David Gerregano and Tennessee Attorney General Herbert Slatery III, claiming the ban was a violation against her First Amendment rights to free speech. If she doesn't change her tag, she would be prohibited from renewing her vehicle registration and could face a fine and up to 30 days in jail.

"The issue here is it just does not say what they're perceiving it to mean," said Horowitz. "This is a harmless, innocuous vanity license plate like thousands of others."

He continued, "People are not going to agree on what is offensive and what is not, and there's a reason why the government does not get to play speech-policing cop in a wide-ranging manner."

The department declined to comment on the specific litigation when FOX 17 reached out, simply saying state code "prohibits the Tennessee Department of Revenue from issuing a personalized license plate that 'may carry connotations offensive to good tase and decency or that are misleading.'"

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