October 16, 2015 / 7:30 PM / 4 years ago

U.S. judge rules Maryland can ditch Confederate flag license plates

(Reuters) - A federal judge in Maryland has ruled that the state may start phasing out license plates featuring the Confederate battle flag as early as November, a state official said.

U.S. District Judge Marvin Garbis issued the order on Thursday, lifting a 1997 injunction at Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh’s request, Frosh’s office said in a statement. The order goes into effect on Nov. 17.

The recall comes after the June massacre of nine black churchgoers in South Carolina which prosecutors say was carried out by a white man who posed with the Confederate flag in online photos.

Frosh said the Confederate battle flag was a symbol of hate and division and did not have a place in government.

“I look forward to the day when these plates are no longer on the road,” he said in the statement.

The state Motor Vehicle Administration will contact Sons of Confederate Veterans plate owners on the recall. Maryland follows Virginia in pulling the specialty flag plates.

Maryland attempted a recall in the 1990s. The effort was thwarted when a U.S. District Court ruled the tags were constitutionally protected as free speech.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in June that messages on license plates were a form of government speech and could be rejected by states. Before the ruling, nine states offered Sons of Confederate Veterans license plates.

Reporting by John Clarke in Washington; Editing by Ian Simpson and Mohammad Zargham

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