The justices said they will review a Minnesota law whose challengers include Andrew Cilek, a man who wore a Tea Party Patriots T-shirt and a "Please I.D. Me" button when he went to the polls in 2010.
Minnesota is one of at least 10 states with broad bans on political apparel at election sites, according to the challengers. A decision striking down those laws would mark a significant shift for the high court, which in 1992 upheld a Tennessee law that barred campaign materials promoting a specific candidate or party. That law didn’t mention more general political items.This case has important implications both for free speech rights and for election administration:
That ruling "plainly does not endorse a categorical ban on all types of ‘political’ speech," the challengers argued in their appeal. The group includes the Minnesota Voters Alliance and Cilek, its executive director.
Minnesota’s law bars the wearing of a "political badge, political button or other political insignia" inside the polling place. . . . The law "is a reasonable method to ensure that the polling place is a location where citizens can exercise the right to vote without confusion, distraction or distress, and election officials can preserve the integrity and reliability of elections," the state officials argued.
On the one hand, states have a strong interest in ensuring the orderly conduct of elections, including prohibiting certain conduct, such as electioneering, at polling places. On the other hand, voters do not abandon their rights of free speech at the polling place door, and broad bans on anything "political" clearly infringe on a voter's free speech rights. Even more disturbingly, a vague prohibition such as Minnesota's allows a low-ranking government official, often a poll worker hired just for the day, to determine the limits of a voter's right of free speech by defining "political" (which, in our current culture, has been expanded to embrace almost everything) according to the government official's opinions. This is the type of tyranny, petty though it may seem, that the First Amendment was designed to combat.
Of note, prominent free speech advocates and election integrity supporters have already filed amici briefs in support of Minnesota Voters Alliance's challenge to the law: Cato Institute, Rutherford Institute, Reason Foundation, and Individual Rights Foundation; Center for Competitive Politics (now called Institute for Free Speech); and American Civil Rights Union and Association for Government Accountability.