Supreme Court strikes down Minnesota law that banned political apparel at polling place
The Supreme Court on Thursday struck down a Minnesota law that banned political apparel at a polling place, holding that it violates the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment.
The vote was 7-2.
The ruling could impact at least nine other states with similar laws and will send a message that states can’t go too far in prohibiting speech at the polling place. Nearly every state has a law on the books that limits speech to some extent, but Minnesota’s was considered one of the broadest for banning any “political badge, political button or other political insignia” at polling places.
Writing for the majority, Chief Justice John Roberts emphasized that states have “permissible objective” to make some prohibitions at the polling place but that Minnesota’s law was vague at times and open to confusion.
“We see no basis for rejecting Minnesota’s determination that some forms of advocacy should be excluded from the polling place, to set it aside as an island of calm in which voters can peacefully contemplate their choices,” Roberts wrote.
He noted that under a broad definition, even a t-shirt that simply said “Vote!” could trigger the law. He wondered if a t-shirt saying “Support our Troops” or “#MeToo” could be banned as well.
“Should a scout leader in 2012 stopping to vote on his way to a troop meeting have been asked to cover up his uniform?” Roberts queried.
The case was brought by Andrew Cilek, the executive director of the Minnesota Voters Alliance, who went to his polling place in 2010 wearing a shirt with a Tea Party logo and the words “Don’t Tread on Me.”
When he went to vote, election workers, citing the law, initially stopped him from casting a ballot but later relented and said he had to leave his name and address with them.
After the election, Cilek brought suit, arguing the law violates the First Amendment because it is overbroad and it defers to the discretion of election workers to determine which messages are political. He said his group, for instance, did not endorse or oppose any candidates or issues on the 2010 ballot.
A lower court previously upheld the ban, arguing that it advanced the state’s interest in “peace, order and decorum” at polling places.