US Supreme Court to consider Minnesota law barring political clothing at polls

Justices to weigh constitutionality of state ban on political apparel at the polls

Justices to weigh constitutionality of state ban on political apparel at the polls

The U.S. Supreme Court will consider whether a Minnesota law banning political items in and near polling places violates free speech rights.

The group's executive director, Andrew Cilek, was turned away by election officials in 2010 for wearing a Tea Party shirt and a "Please I.D. Me" button, which a district court found were part of a campaign to get the state to enact voter ID laws.

"The court of appeals' legal conclusion that the interior of a polling place is a non-public forum in which speech restrictions are constitutional as long as they are reasonable and viewpoint neutral is the same conclusion reached by every court that has analyzed the issue, " wrote Daniel P. Rogan of the Hennepin County Attorney's office. The alliance sued several Twin Cities election officials and Secretary of State Steve Simon.

The court will decide the case next year, before the congressional midterm election.

Minnesota Statute § 211B.11 prohibits wearing a "political badge, political button, or other political or about the polling place on primary or election day".

But the Pacific Legal Foundation, a conservative firm that is representing the Minnesota Voters Alliance, claims the 8th Circuit's decision to uphold the law "effectively chills the free speech rights of millions of voters across the country by threatening criminal prosecution or civil penalties for voters who wear logo t-shirts, caps, jackets, buttons, and other apparel in state-declared speech-free zones".

Lawyers for the state urged the Supreme Court to stay out of the case and leave in place a lower court opinion that went against Cilek. The area of the ban begins 100 feet from the polling place door, and violators can be charged with a Class C misdemeanor, which carries a fine of up to $500 but no jail time.

Dan McGrath, a spokesman for the Minnesota Voters Alliance, said he believes Minnesota's law targets people who are "innocently expressing a view".

It is one of three free speech cases the court put on its docket for early 2018. The centers, operated by groups that oppose abortion rights, have argued that the law violates their First Amendment rights.

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