Institute for Free Speech Brief: Minnesota’s Ban on Political Apparel at Polling Places Violates the First Amendment

Poorly written and overly broad, Minnesota’s law goes too far

Alexandria, VA – The Institute for Free Speech last week filed an amicus brief with the U.S. Supreme Court urging that a Minnesota law banning all political apparel at polling places be struck down for violating the First Amendment. The case, Minnesota Voters Alliance v. Mansky, will be heard in February.

The brief explains that Minnesota failed to “precisely define the expression it wishes to ban. By regulating clothing displaying venerable symbols of the American Revolution itself, and not merely advocacy for or against candidates on the ballot, the State shows that the word ‘political’ has lost any clear meaning. This vagueness, which is particularly troubling in the First Amendment context, poses a trap for the unwary that must be remedied.”

Minnesota’s ban goes farther than other states that prohibit the wearing of campaign apparel (“Vote for Smith!”) at polling places. By contrast, Minnesota bans apparel with “political insignia,” a poorly defined term that has been interpreted to include a t-shirt with the Gadsden flag, a symbol of the American Revolution. Absent a more precise definition of “political insignia,” the ban is a recipe for inconsistent enforcement that infringes on Minnesotans’ First Amendment right to free speech.

The Institute’s involvement in the case began last July with an amicus brief urging the Supreme Court to hear the case. The Court agreed in November. Oral arguments are scheduled for February 28.

The Institute’s brief can be read here.

About the Institute for Free Speech

The Institute for Free Speech is a nonpartisan, nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization that promotes and defends the First Amendment rights to freely speak, assemble, publish, and petition the government. Originally known as the Center for Competitive Politics, it was founded in 2005 by Bradley A. Smith, a former Chairman of the Federal Election Commission. The Institute is the nation’s largest organization dedicated solely to protecting First Amendment political rights.

The Center for Competitive Politics is now the Institute for Free Speech.