Supreme Court to consider political apparel at the polling place

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The Supreme Court on Monday agreed to take up a case concerning a Minnesota law that bans voters from wearing political badges, buttons or other political insignia at the polling place. The alliance sued several Twin Cities election officials and Secretary of State Steve Simon.

But the Pacific Legal Foundation, a conservative firm that is representing the Minnesota Voters Alliance, claims the 8th Circuit's decision to uphold the law "effectively chills the free speech rights of millions of voters across the country by threatening criminal prosecution or civil penalties for voters who wear logo t-shirts, caps, jackets, buttons, and other apparel in state-declared speech-free zones".

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

Lawyers for the state urged the Supreme Court to stay out of the case and leave in place a lower court opinion that went against Cilek. "It essentially creates a speech-free zone in the polling place". "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.

All Travis County early voting sites and most election day polling places have Democratic and Republican election judges who jointly determine what displays violate the restriction on political messages on clothing, said Travis County District Clerk Dana DeBeauvoir.

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"It just keeps things happier that way", she said.

The law "is a reasonable method to ensure that the polling place is a location where citizens can exercise the right to vote without confusion, distraction or distress, and election officials can preserve the integrity and reliability of elections", the state officials argued.

The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which includes Texas, has weighed in as well, upholding a similar Louisiana law in 1993.

Appeals judges upheld the Minnesota law in 2013 and 2017, saying it helps maintain order in 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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