The Sons of Confederate Veterans submitted an application to the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) to sponsor a vanity plate bearing the confederate battle flag. When their application was denied, they sued on grounds of infringement of their free speech. After winning in a lower Texas court, their case made it to the docket of the Supreme Court of the United States. In a rare move, Justice Clarence Thomas ruled with the majority to overturn the lower courts ruling.
In a 5-4 decision the justices determined free speech of the government has precedence over the free speech of an individual.
“When the government speaks, it is not barred by the free speech clause from determining what it says,” Justice Stephen Breyer said for the court.
Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan joined Breyer and Thomas in ruling for Texas in the case of Walker vs. Texas Division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans.
Some regard Justice Clarence Thomas as one of the more conservative on the bench and his vote in favor of this case was seen as “rare”.
Clarence Thomas grew up in Savannah, Georgia, and was educated at the College of the Holy Cross and at Yale Law School. In 1990, President George H. W. Bush nominated Thomas for a seat on the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. He served in that role for 16 months and on July 1, 1991, was nominated by Bush to fill Thurgood Marshall’s seat on the United States Supreme Court. The U.S. Senate ultimately confirmed Thomas by a vote of 52–48.