News & Politics

DC Rejects a “FOIA” Vanity Plate

But: A lawyer wants it, and he's filed an appeal.

Image via iStock.

The Freedom of Information Act is a big part of Allan Blutstein’s life. The Chinatown resident has been a FOIA attorney for a decade and a half, and he’s handled FOIA requests as both a responder, for the Justice and Treasury departments, and as a requester: He’s currently the senior vice-president of FOIA operations at the political research firm America Rising. He also helps run a blog called FOIA Advisor.

So it makes sense that Blutstein’s dream license plate reads “FOIA.” “I thought it would be fun,” he tells Washingtonian. But the DC DMV rejected Blutstein’s request, citing “reference of govt language” in a letter to him dated February 21. 

The District refers to Section 18-423 of DC Municipal Regulations when it considers applications for personalized tags. Some excluded subject areas are what you may expect (profanity or references to body parts) as well as some broader exclusions than in other states, such as references to deities or political affiliation. The closest I could find to an exclusion for “govt language” is a prohibition on plates that “Suggest, in any language, a government or governmental agency.”

The DMV’s cited reason for denying his plate seems “awfully broad to me,” Blutstein says. Such a prohibition could apply to any government function, including taxation or policing. He’s written a letter appealing the rejection, saying that not only is “government language” unidentified in regulations, but that term is “too vague and too broad to withstand judicial scrutiny.” Besides, he says in the letter, he knows someone in Maryland who has the same plate.   

Appeals to DC vanity plate decisions are reviewed by a chain of DMV administrators going all the way up to the director. “DC DMV has overturned personalized tag rejections,” DMV spokesperson Vanessa E. Newton told Washingtonian last year, when we wrote about the license plates the District rejected in 2018.

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Senior editor

Andrew Beaujon joined Washingtonian in late 2014. He was previously with the Poynter Institute, TBD.com, and Washington City Paper. His book A Bigger Field Awaits Us: The Scottish Soccer Team That Fought the Great War was published in 2018. He lives in Del Ray.