Wooley v. Maynard

Facts of the Case

Appellees George Maynard and his wife Maxine are followers of the Jehovah’s Witnesses faith. The Maynards consider the New Hampshire State motto to be repugnant to their moral, religious, and political beliefs, and therefore assert it objectionable to disseminate this message by displaying it on their automobiles. Pursuant to these beliefs, the Maynards began early in 1974 to cover up the motto on their license plates. After Maynard was tried and convicted on three different occasions in the state district court, for violating a state law making it a misdemeanor knowingly to obscure the figures or letters on any number plate, the Maynards brought an action in the federal district court seeking injunctive and declaratory relief against enforcement of the New Hampshire laws that required display of the state motto on license plates and made it a crime to obscure such motto. The federal district court judge issued a temporary restraining order against arrests or prosecutions of the Maynards for obscuring the motto on license plates, and subsequently, a three-judge District Court, finding that the couple’s First Amendment rights had been abridged, granted permanent injunctive relief. The State filed a direct appeal to the United States Supreme Court.

Question

Did the New Hampshire law unconstitutionally interfere with the freedom of speech guaranteed by the First Amendment?

CONCLUSION

In a 6-to-3 decision, the Court held that New Hampshire could not constitutionally require citizens to display the state motto upon their vehicle license plates. The Court found that the statute in question effectively required individuals to use their private property as a ‘mobile billboard’ for the State’s ideological message. The Court held that the State’s interests in requiring the motto did not outweigh free speech principles under the First Amendment, including the right of individuals to hold a point of view different from the majority and to refuse to foster. . .an idea they find morally objectionable.

Case Information

  • Citation: 430 US 705 (1977)
  • Argued: Nov 29, 1976
  • Decided Apr 20, 1977