The U.S. Supreme Court struck down a ban on clothing with political messages being worn inside polling places. Greg Magarian, professor of law at Washington University in St. Louis and an expert on free speech and the law of politics, said the court’s June 14 decision in the case was very narrow.
“The court affirms that states may ban electoral advocacy inside polling places, because polling places serve a specific purpose — enabling voting — that some kinds of electoral advocacy can interfere with,” Magarian said. “However, the court finds the Minnesota law at issue ‘unreasonable’ because that law uses the simple term ‘political’ to describe what kinds of apparel, buttons, etc. people may not wear inside Minnesota polling places.”
The 7-2 decision struck down a 100-year-old Minnesota law that was challenged by a voter temporarily turned away for wearing a Tea Party shirt and a “Please I.D. Me” button.
“Chief Justice John Roberts’ opinion for the court finds ‘political’ too imprecise to strike a coherent balance, let alone a constitutionally proper one, between the right to vote and the right to political expression,” Magarian said.
“The court points to California’s similar law, which bans in polling places ‘the visible display … of information that advocates for or against any candidate or measure’ as an example of how to do this kind of law correctly. Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Stephen Breyer dissented, but only on procedural grounds. They would have certified the case to the Minnesota Supreme Court for an authoritative interpretation of the law’s language, which might have cleared up the problem.”