U.S. Supreme Court to Rule on Polling Place Attire

A Minnesota ban on political attire could be overturned by the Supreme Court later this month.

WASHINGTON (AP) — Like a number of states, Minnesota bars voters from wearing political items to the polls to reduce the potential for confrontations or voter intimidation. But that could change. The Supreme Court will consider a challenge to the state’s law on Feb. 28.  This case could affect other states, too.

Wen Fa, a lawyer with the Pacific Legal Foundation, the group behind the challenge to Minnesota’s law, says wearing political clothing is “a passive way to express core political values” and the case is “about the free speech rights of all Americans.”

Minnesota sees it differently. In court papers, it says the law is a “reasonable restriction” that preserves “order and decorum in the polling place” and prevents “voter confusion and intimidation.”

“I think what’s important to understand is the purpose of this prohibition is to protect the fundamental right to vote,” said Daniel Rogan, who is arguing the case for the state and said he doesn’t know of anyone issued a fine of up to $300 allowed under the law. Lower courts have sided with the state.

Some states allow voters to wear whatever they want. Others bar campaign clothing directly related to candidates or issues on the ballot. Minnesota has a broad law that also bans “political” attire, including clothing promoting a group with understood political views.  The law on the Minnesota Secretary of State website reads, “You cannot display political t-shirts, buttons or literature in the polling place. You will need to either cover up or remove these items while in the polling place.”

The case now before the justices began in 2010 when several groups sued after Minnesota officials made clear they wouldn’t permit residents to vote while wearing tea party apparel or buttons that said, “Please I.D. Me.” The buttons referred to legislation then under discussion in the state and ultimately defeated that would have required residents to show photo identification to vote.


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