Supreme Court strikes down Minnesota ban on political apparel at polling stations

iStock/Thinkstock
iStock/Thinkstock

(WASHINGTON) — The Supreme Court ruled Thursday that a Minnesota law banning political apparel and polling stations violates the First Amendment.

A state law in Minnesota said voters cannot wear apparel with political symbols at polling stations, including buttons or articles of clothing. Before the 2010 election, the nonpartisan Minnesota Voters Alliance challenged that ban, arguing that the ban violated voters’ First Amendment right to free speech.

The Supreme Court agreed, voting 7-2 that the Minnesota law was too broad and violated the First Amendment by banning all political apparel.

In the majority opinion, Chief Justice John Roberts said Minnesota’s state law tried to balance between rights to free speech and giving voters an opportunity to vote without distractions from political campaigns in the polling place, but that ultimately banning “political insignia” without specifically defining what it includes was too broad.

“Minnesota’s ban on wearing any ‘political badge, political button or other political insignia’ plainly restricts a form of expression within the protection of the First Amendment,” Roberts said.

Roberts said the government can impose some restrictions on speech in public places, but there is a high bar for restricting speech based on content and that it can’t be restricted because of the person’s opinions.

The Supreme Court wrote that even though the broader law violated the First Amendment, not all state laws limiting political items at polling stations are unconstitutional. Minnesota and other states could still prohibit certain kinds of apparel with a political message inside polling places, “so that voters may focus on the important decisions immediately at hand.”

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