McCrory wants to pull Confederate flag off NC specialty plates

Posted June 23, 2015 3:39 p.m. EDT
Updated June 24, 2015 10:18 a.m. EDT

— Gov. Pat McCrory plans to seek a change to state law that would allow the Division of Motor Vehicles to stop issuing North Carolina specialty license plates bearing the Confederate battle flag, his spokesman said Tuesday.

"The time is right to change this policy due to the recent Supreme Court ruling and the tragedy in Charleston," spokesman Josh Ellis said in an email to WRAL News.

Long a flashpoint for racial tension, the Confederate battle flag has seized headlines in recent days after a white supremacist opened fire inside a historic black church in Charleston, S.C., last Wednesday night, killing nine people at a Bible study class.

Since then, South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley and other politicians in that state have called for the removal of the flag from the state capitol grounds in Columbia, and retailers from Wal-Mart to eBay have said they plan to stop selling items bearing the image of the flag.

The state DMV said it has issued 2,064 Confederate flag plates to members of the North Carolina chapter of Sons of Confederate Veterans.

Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger's office said McCrory doesn't need legislative approval to remove the flag from the tags, noting DMV is in charge of approving specialty plate designs.

Ellis said, however, that state law requires that plates for civic groups must include a group's name and insignia, which would be the Confederate battle flag for the Sons of Confederate Veterans. So, unless someone can persuade the group to adopt a new insignia, he said, the law would need to be changed.

The Sons of Confederate Veterans calls the flag an important piece of history and their heritage. Paul Graham of the group's South Carolina chapter said the flag shouldn't be conflated with the Charleston church shooting and that removing the image from public places won't change people's actions.

"It will not change anything. What it will do is it will embarrass and shame people that have nothing to do with this event – nothing," Graham said.

House Minority Leader Larry Hall said North Carolina needs to look at all state-sanctioned images that could be considered offensive, but he said he doesn't want the Confederate flag debate to divert attention from debate over firearms legislation pending in the General Assembly.

The House recently passed a bill that would loosen state regulations on who can carry concealed handguns and where they can be carried. The Senate hasn't yet taken up the measure.

"The priority has to be on gun safety and eliminate people getting guns without background checks," Hall said. "Flags don't kill. Guns do."

Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe also called Tuesday for removing the Confederate battle flag from specialty plates in his state.

"Even its display on state-issued license tags is, in my view, unnecessarily divisive and hurtful to too many of our people," McAuliffe said.

Last week, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in a Texas case that states can choose not to issue such plates. In the 5-4 decision, the justices said tags are state property, not the equivalent of bumper stickers, so denying specific designs doesn't violate free-speech rights.

North Carolina and Virginia are among nine states that offer specialty plates with the Confederate battle flag.