A woman is suingmotoring officials after her license plate was revoked for being "offensive" and "illegal" – 10 years after she first registered it.
Astronomy and gaming fan Leah Gilliam claims she was discriminated against after her vanity licence plate "69PWNDU" was confiscated.
The authorities bizarrely ruled the plate – which in gaming terms means "owned" – was "deemed offensive" and against the law – putting her at risk of prosecution.
But Gilliam, from Nashville, Tennessee in the US, said state's department of revenue violated her constitutional right, according to the the First Amendment, "forbids the government from discriminating against citizens based on the viewpoint they express."
"Ms Gilliam’s harmless vanity plate is transparently protected by the First Amendment, and the only illegality involved is the Tennessee Department of Revenue’s decision to violate her First Amendment rights," Daniel Horwitz, one of Gilliam’s attorneys, said in a statement.
"When Nashville woman Leah Gilliam purchased a vanity plate to celebrate her interests in astronomy and gaming, it did not occur to her that her constitutionally protected speech could land her in jail," law firm Horwitz Law PLLC added.
The lawsuit includes a letter Gilliam received from the revenue department, informing her the plate had been "deemed offensive" and revoked.
"You may apply for a different personalised plate or request a regular, non-personalised plate to replace the revoked plate," the letter stated. "The law requires you to immediately return the revoked plate… You will be unable to renew your vehicle registration until this plate has been returned."
Her lawyers argue the plate was revoked before she had been given a chance to defend herself at a hearing, the move is a "prior restraint" on her freedom of speech and it violates her right to due process.
They also claim the decision to confiscate the plate was unconstitutional because it was subjective, according to US network FoxNews.
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"Governmental discrimination on the basis of viewpoint is forbidden in any forum," the filing states.
"And although the sole basis for the Department’s decision to revoke Ms. Gilliam’s vanity plate is that it ‘has been deemed offensive’… the U.S. Supreme Court has clearly established that: ‘Giving offense is a viewpoint.’"
Her lawyers described her as "an astronomy buff and a gamer."
They say the plate "combines the year of the moon landing (1969) with a common gaming term, ‘pwn.’"
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"Pown" typically refers to someone who has been heavily defeated at a video game.
The term is defined as: "(especially in video gaming) [to] utterly defeat (an opponent or rival); completely get the better of" by the informal Oxford Languages dictionary.
A department of revenue refused to comment on the ongoing case, but said state law allows it to revoke vanity plates that "may carry connotations offensive to good taste and decency or that are misleading."
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