Health Care

Supreme Court to consider political clothing at polling places

Supreme Court to consider political clothing at polling places”

The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to consider whether a Minnesota law that prohibits political clothing or buttons at polling places violates voters' free-speech rights.

The case is brought by Andy Cilek, a Minnesota voter and executive director of the Minnesota Voters Alliance, who was temporarily blocked from voting because he was wearing a T-shirt that stated "Don't Tread on Me" at a polling place.

"Political messages can be found everywhere if one looks hard enough", Cilek's lawyers told the Supreme Court.

Wen Fa, an attorney assisting with the case, said he believes the Supreme Court's decision could have an impact well beyond Minnesota. Oral arguments have not been scheduled, but a ruling is expected before the court's term ends in late June or early July.

A federal judge in Minnesota ruled for the state, granting summary judgment on the voter groups' as-applied First Amendment claim after previously dismissing their equal protection and facial First Amendment claims. "Such a limitless ban on personal expression is unconstitutional". "EIW asserts that the apparel conveys only a philosophy, not an endorsement of particular candidates, ballot measures, or political parties", Judge William Benton wrote for a three-judge panel. That law didn't mention more general political items.

"It just keeps things happier that way", she said. When confronted by an election judge, most will remove a campaign button, zip up a jacket or reverse their T-shirt to hide its message.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit upheld the law as being in line with the prohibition on political campaigning at polling places.

But lawyers for the state of Minnesota say lower courts have determined that speech restrictions inside polling places are legal as long as they are reasonable and viewpoint neutral.

The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which includes Texas, has weighed in as well, upholding a similar Louisiana law in 1993. The court in 1992 upheld a Tennessee law that set up a 100-foot buffer around polling places.

Meanwhile, the Supreme Court will hear another free-speech case related to a California law that requires crisis pregnancy centers to provide women with information about abortion.

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