The Iraqi War veteran’s vanity plate “ICUHAJI” has acquired a life of its own in a battle between former Army sniper Sean Bujno and Virginia’s DMV. At issue is whether the message “I see you, Haji” is derogatory to Arabs and Muslims and in violation of Virginia’s regulations against such messages appearing on vanity plates. Bujno won his first round in court with a judge’s ruling declaring the regulations to be unconstitutional “viewpoint discrimination.” His case was then sent back to DMV to see if it could justify the revocation of the plates on some other ground. DMV decided it could still deny Bujno the plates on other, legal grounds, and Bujno again took the case to court. This time the judge ruled that Bujno had failed to exhaust his administrative remedies with DMV before filing suit (a necessary step before invoking a court’s jurisdiction). So Bujno is now headed back to DMV to exhaust his remedies there before (assuming he loses) the court will hear his appeal. FWIW, the Virginia-Pilot has sort-of sided with Bujno, arguing that the Virginia regulations are vague.
A determined Billings, Montana widow got an apology and a check from DMV after it wrongly denied her benefits under a disabled veteran’s law. Evelyn Pierce’s husband Billy–a disabled Korean war veteran–died in 1999 and DMV confiscated his disabled veteran’s license plates. Under Montana law at the time, a surviving spouse was not eligible to retain the plates or to have registration fees waived. Montana changed the law in 2003 but DMV persisted in denying Pierce the waiver of the registration fees. After enlisting the aid of State Senator Roger Webb, Pierce was finally given a refund and an apology.
“NOT SEE.” Get it? California’s DMV canceled Shawn Calipto’s Nazi-referenced vanity plate, and the San Diego Unified School District laced him on leave from his job as a school bus driver. Apparently the plate itself went unnoticed for some time, but the swastika he displayed above it garnered so much attention that some folks connected the dots and complained.
Iraqi war veteran Sean Bujno had used the license plate “ICUHAJI” for four years before Virginia’s DMV revoked it in 2011. After first winning the case last year by a circuit judge’s decision, Bujno has had his lawsuit twice dismissed by a state court judge and is now considering filing a federal lawsuit. DMV deemed the plate to violate regulations against letter combinations that are “socially, racially, or ethnically offensive or disparaging.” The plate “ICUHAJI” can be interpreted to mean “I see you, Haji” (“Haji” apparently is a common racial slur among U.S. soldiers to describe muslims or arabs). For his part, Bruno, who was honorably discharged in 2009, claims that during his service in Iraq he got to know Muslims and intends the plate to mean “I see you, brother.” Complicating the case somewhat is the fact that “Haji” apparently is also an honorable term used to refer to Muslims who have made the pilgrimage to Mecca. DMV didn’t buy it, noting that Bruno’s father had also attempted to register the plate “HAJIKLR.” Bruno’s attorney offered another explanation, that it was meant as a message of “solidarity” to fellow soldiers.