The US Supreme Court just struck down a new Minnesota law that would have barred pro-Second Amendment t-shirts and other political messages at polling places.
Minnesota had argued that the law was a reasonable restriction that keeps order at polling places and prevents voter intimidation. The justices were smarter than that though and ruled 7-2 that the state’s law is too broad, violating the free speech clause of the First Amendment.
Most states have laws restricting what voters can wear when they cast ballots, but Minnesota’s law was one of the broadest. It barred voters from casting a ballot while wearing clothing with the name of a candidate or political party. Also not allowed: clothing that references an issue on the ballot or promotes a group with recognizable political views. A National Rifle Association T-shirt or shirt with the text of the Second Amendment wouldn’t be allowed, for example, according to the lawyer who argued the case for the state.
Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in the majority decision that,
“if a State wishes to set its polling places apart as areas free of partisan discord, it must employ a more discernible approach than the one Minnesota has offered here.”
The ruling could reach far beyond Minnesota and cause other states to be forced to reexamine their laws. Lawyers for both the state of Minnesota and the group challenging the law had said there are roughly10 states with laws like Minnesota’s, though they disagreed on which ones could be impacted. Both groups did mention Delaware, New Jersey, New York, Texas, and Vermont, however.
The case that was decided was 16-1435 Minnesota Voters Alliance v. Mansky, which dated back to 2010 and involved a dispute that began over tea party T-shirts and buttons. These items had the words “Please I.D. Me,” a reference to legislation then under discussion in Minnesota that would have required residents to show photo identification to vote. Election officials in the state had warned that such wearables could not be worn at polling places, prompting the lawsuit.
One notable incident in which SCOTUS actually backed up some limitation on restrictions at polling places was in 1992 when it ruled that keeping campaign materials such as signs and handing out flyers could be prohibited within 100 feet of a poll.