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HomeIllinois NewsU.S. Supreme Court ruling protects political self-expression

U.S. Supreme Court ruling protects political self-expression




Free speech at the polls! This week, the Supreme Court struck down a Minnesota law barring the wearing of political badges, buttons, or other political insignia in polling places. The Pacific Legal Foundation argued for the plaintiffs in Minnesota Voters Alliance v. Mansky. PLF’s Debra La Fetra explains the court’s reasoning:

In deciding the case, the Court applied the most government-friendly free speech test – whether the state’s prohibition was “reasonable.” Under this test, the State had to articulate “some sensible basis for distinguishing what [speech] may come in from what must stay out.” The Court held that the Minnesota statute failed this test for several reasons.

First, the ban on “political” speech covers a vast amount of self-expression, ranging from the naming of candidates or issues to more general slogans such as “Support Our Troops,” “#MeToo,” “All Lives Matter,” and even a shirt simply displaying the text of the Second Amendment.

Second, the law would ban even the wearing of logos of organizations that took political positions in election cycles. In this way, it bars citizens from simply wearing t-shirts supporting the American Civil Liberties Union, the AARP, the World Wildlife Fund, and Ben and Jerry’s. The Court noted the law could apply to a Boy Scout leader in uniform, transforming the uniform into banned “political” apparel because of the politics surrounding the Boy Scouts.

A third problem with the statute is that it gives Minnesota poll workers unbridled discretion to interpret and enforce the meaning of the “political” apparel ban. While the Court assumed that most poll workers would strive to enforce the statute in an evenhanded nature, their discretion—coupled with the lack of objective guidance from the state—creates an opening for biased enforcement that undermines the state’s legitimate interest in maintaining a polling place free of distraction and disruption.

[Debra J. La Fetra, “Victory for First Amendment Freedom,” Pacific Legal Foundation, June 14]


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