“MZU SUX” License Plate – Obscene or Funny?

Does the word “sucks” have an obscene connotation?  That is a question recently addressed by a Missouri Court of Appeals.  The case stems from a personalized Missouri license plate obtained by a University of Kansas Jayhawks fan.  This license plate read “MZU SUX”  (shorthand for Mizzou Sucks), which was an obvious shot at the Jayhawks’ rival the University of Missouri.  The court of appeals held that the fan could keep the plate.

The plate’s owner obtained it in 2009 through the normal application process for obtaining a personalized state issued license plate.  However, shortly after the plate was issued, the Missouri Department of Revenue attempted to recall the plate, citing a statute that says no personalized license plate shall be obscene or profane.  The owner argued that in recent decades the term “sucks” has come to mean “subpar” and that the license plate was intended to be funny.  At an administrative hearing on the matter, the commissioners agreed and ruled that term “sucks” was not obscene. The Department of Revenue appealed the commission’s ruling to the court of appeals, which didn’t exactly answer the question of whether “sucks” was an obscene word.  Instead, it deferred to the commission’s decision on the grounds that there was an adequate basis for its ruling and that it would not substitute its own opinion for that of the commission.

The Court noted, however, that “another fact finder may have found otherwise.”

The whole case is a little silly, but I guess we can score this as a victory for free speech.  At minimum, it’s a victory for those who believe that Mizzou is “subpar.”

The case is Gettler v. Director of Revenue, No. WD 75783 (Mo. Ct. App. Oct. 15, 2013).


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