The American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana filed a federal lawsuit Wednesday against the Indiana Bureau of Motor Vehicles, seeking the reinstatement of specialty auto license plates for a group that counsels gay and lesbian youth.
The ACLU claims BMV Commissioner Scott Waddell violated due process by asserting himself as the final authority in an independent review that approved specialty plates for the Indiana Youth Group, according to a copy of the suit obtained by The Associated Press.
Administrative Law Judge Melissa Reynolds issued a ruling in May that directed the BMV to reinstate the plates, but Waddell stepped in last week, continuing the suspension while getting more answers on whether the Indiana Youth Group violated its contract with the state.
"The actions of the Commissioner of the Indiana Bureau of Motor Vehicles, in acting as the appellate and final authority over a decision that he, in effect, issued, violates the right to have an impartial decision maker in administrative adjudications and therefore violates due process," the ACLU wrote in its filing.
Waddell late Monday ordered Reynolds to re-open the case and assess whether the Indiana Youth Group had been "selling" or "auctioning" low-number license plates. Reynolds ruled last month that the group had violated Indiana law and its state contract by receiving payments in exchange for low-numbered license plates, but found the actions didn't constitute an auction or warrant the revocation of the plate. She also said the BMV failed to give 30 days' notice before suspending the plates as required.
She recommended the group's plates be reinstated, a move the youth group had hoped would occur by late this month.
Reynolds' findings weren't binding, however; the administrative law judge for the BMV reports to the commissioner.
Waddell noted in his order seeking the review that he is the "ultimate authority" by law. He said the plates will remain suspended until he makes a final determination.
"Until a final order is issued by me, as the ultimate authority for the BMV, (IYG's) participation in the specialty group recognition program shall remain suspended," Waddell wrote.
The state and the IYG have battled over the plate since it was approved in 2011. Some conservative lawmakers have argued the youth group was promoting underage sex. The group serves gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered youths.
The BMV suspended the plates at the request of 20 Republican state senators last year, saying the group was selling its allotment of low-numbered plates for more than the amount allowed under their contracts. The Greenways Foundation and The 4-H Foundation, both accused of the same action, also lost their plates.
Mary Byrne, executive director of the Indiana Youth Group, said Tuesday she thought the battle was over when Reynolds issued her ruling last month.
"It just feels vindictive," Byrne said. "They made their point to everybody who's got a specialty license plate: 'You cannot use these low-number license plates as thank-you gifts.'"
BMV spokesman Josh Gillespie said the "order of remand" was not an appeal of the judge's ruling, but instead a request for clarification from Reynolds.
"The remand is so we can make the answer we have is complete, we felt like there was some ambiguity," he said.