November 18, 2017

Justices to rule on MN voting place ban on political attire

14 November 2017, 03:33 | Silvia Roy

Supreme Court to consider political apparel at the polling place

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 case arose out of Minnesota, where Andrew Cilek was blocked from casting a ballot in 2010 because he was wearing a button in favor of voter ID and a T-shirt with a tea party logo, a Gadsden flag and the words, "Don't Tread on Me".

Officials from Minnesota and other states that bar political messages under anti-electioneering laws say they should be able to enforce laws that promote neutrality and preserve decorum in the polling place.

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.

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Voters who refused to remove political clothing are still allowed to vote, but election officials were told to record their name and address for potential misdemeanor prosecution, according to court records.

But Daniel Rogan, the civil division manager in the Hennepin County Attorney's Office, who argued the case before the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals, said his office believes the lower courts' rulings were correct.

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

State officials say that besides apparel, the law prohibits campaign literature from groups that hold political views.

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The high court announced Monday, Nov. 13, that it accepted the Minnesota Voters Alliance appeal from the 8th U.S.Circuit Court of Appeals, which had upheld the law. "It essentially creates a speech-free zone in the polling place". The group includes the Minnesota Voters Alliance and Cilek, its executive director.

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.

Minnesota Voters Alliance and its co-plaintiffs, including Election Integrity Watch, claim the law violates the First Amendment and their equal-protection rights due to selective enforcement.

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