SLLC Supreme Court Amicus Brief Argues Okay to Ban Political Apparel at Polling Places

In its Supreme Court amicus brief in Minnesota Voters Alliance v. Mansky the State and Local Legal Center (SLLC) argues that states and local governments should be able to ban political apparel at polling places. County election officials and the Minnesota Secretary of State were sued for violating the First Amendment in this case.

At least eight states (Delaware, Kansas, Montana, New York, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Vermont) other than Minnesota have enacted similar bans.

Andrew Cilek was temporarily prevented from voting for wearing two items of political apparel: a t-shirt that stated “Don’t Tread on Me,” with a picture of the Gadsden Flag and a small Tea Party logo; and an Election Integrity Watch (EIW) button that stated “Please I.D. Me” with EIW’s website and phone number.

The Eighth Circuit held that Minnesota’s law is constitutional citing Burson v. Freeman (1992). In that case the Supreme Court upheld a Tennessee statute that banned the solicitation of votes and campaign materials within 100 feet of the polling place.

The Minnesota Voters Alliance argues the statute is unconstitutionally overbroad describing it as having a “breathtaking reach” that criminalizes “all political speech that can be communicated through shirts, hats, buttons, and other apparel,” even though that speech assertedly “imposes no demands or burdens on others.”

The SLLC amicus brief responds to the other side’s arguments head-on. “Far from marking out a ‘breathtaking’ scope, Minnesota’s statute addresses speech in only one very limited and specialized location: the polling place. The law is directed at a type of display that threatens to interfere with the right of voters to cast their ballots freely, without intimidation or disruption. And it states a reasonable rule that has been applied by numerous States—without challenge or, for all that appears, any significant limitation on political debate—for over a century.”

Charles Rothfeld, Andrew Pincus, Michael Kimberly, and Paul Hughes of Mayer Brown and Eugene Fidell of the Yale Supreme Court Clinic wrote the SLLC amicus brief which the following organizations joined:  the National Association of Counties, the National League of Cities, the United States Conference of Mayors, the International City/County Management Association, and the International Municipal Lawyers Association.