MINNESOTA VOTERS ALLIANCE v. State of Minnesota and Joe Mansky: The First Amendment Wins, Again!

While the opinion in the same-sex wedding cake case a “half-baked” defense of the free exercise clause under the First Amendment, it was still a win for religious liberty and our right to speak and associate as a free people.

The decision today is another great win for our right to speak as free people and to require the state, when it seeks to constrain that speech, to meet the strict scrutiny of the First Amendment.

This case out of Minnesota was a challenge to the constitutionality of a Minnesota law that prohibits “political” apparel at the polls. Our friends Sue Jeffers and Andy Cilek are the people who made this happen.

The Court ruled that this ban violates the First Amendment. CHIEF JUSTICE ROBERTS delivered the 7-2 opinion of the Court:

Minnesota law prohibits individuals, including voters, from wearing a “political badge, political button, or other political insignia” inside a polling place on Election Day. Minn. Stat. §211B.11(1) (Supp. 2017). This “political apparel ban” covers articles of clothing and accessories with political insignia upon them. State election judges have the authority to decide whether a particular item falls within the ban. Violators are subject to a civil penalty or prosecution for a petty misdemeanor.

Held: Minnesota’s political apparel ban violates the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment. (see pages Pp. 7–19).

Here are key excerpts:

Thus, in light of the special purpose of the polling place itself, Minnesota may choose to prohibit certain apparel there because of the message it conveys, so that voters may focus on the important decisions immediately at hand.

But the State must draw a reasonable line. Although there is no requirement of narrow tailoring in a nonpublic forum, the State must be able to articulate some sensible basis for distinguishing what may come in from what must stay out. See Cornelius, 473 U. S., at 808–809. Here, the unmoored use of the term “political” in the Minnesota law, combined with haphazard interpretations the State has provided in official guidance and representations to this Court, cause Minnesota’s restriction to fail even this forgiving test.

Cases like this “present[] us with a particularly difficult reconciliation: the accommodation of the right to engage in political discourse with the right to vote.” Burson, 504 U. S., at 198 (plurality opinion). Minnesota, like other States, has sought to strike the balance in a way that affords the voter the opportunity to exercise his civic duty in a setting removed from the clamor and din of electioneering. While that choice is generally worthy of our respect, Minnesota has not supported its good intentions with a law capable of reasoned application.

Here is the press release from the Pacific Legal Foundation:

Today is a historic day for free speech and for Pacific Legal Foundation.
The U.S. Supreme Court upheld free speech rights across the nation in its decision to strike down a polling-place dress code in Minnesota.
The remarkable 7-2 opinion in favor of our clients, Andy Cilek and Sue Jeffers, transcended political party and partisanship. More importantly, the ruling instantly puts governments across the country on notice: if they can’t ban peaceful political self-expression at the voting booth, they can’t do so on college campuses, public libraries, your local DMV—you name it.
The justices made it clear that no public place in America can escape our constitutional protections.

Congratulations to the Minnesota Voters Alliance, Sue Jeffers and Andy Cilek and their legal team! You can read the opinion here.