On Monday, the Supreme Court accepted an appeal about the ability of a voter to wear clothing or campaign buttons at a polling place that endorses a political cause. The case of Minnesota Voters Alliance v. Mansky had been before the nine Justices in private conference on five occasions until it was granted a court date. The question under consideration is if a Minnesota law that “broadly bans all political apparel at the polling place, facially overbroad under the First Amendment.” The law, Minnesota Statute Section 211B.11, actually prevents voters from wearing political badges, political buttons, or other “political insignia” at polling places, because the messages communicated are “designed to influence and impact voting” or promote a “group with recognizable political views.” The controversy started when Andrew Cilek of Hennepin County was temporarily stopped from voting because he was wearing a t-shirt with a “Don’t Tread on Me” and a Tea Party slogan, and a button endorsing Voter ID policies from a group called Election Integrity Watch.
The Minnesota law creates a “speech-free zone” in effect because it allows election officials to determine polices that ban political speech at the polls, Cilek and his supporters contend. When they first sued, a district court dismissed the case, in part citing a 1992 Supreme Court decision, Burson v. Freeman. In that 5-3 decision, Justice Harry Blackmun found that that the state of Tennessee had the right to establish a “restricted zone around polling places” as “necessary to serve the interest in protecting the right to vote freely and effectively.”
“The State, as recognized administrator of elections, has asserted that the exercise of free speech rights conflicts with another fundamental right, the right to cast a ballot in an election free from the taint of intimidation and fraud. A long history, a substantial consensus, and simple common sense show that some restricted zone around polling places is necessary to protect that fundamental right,” Blackmun concluded.