By Zac Morgan
If you’ve ever scrolled through Facebook or Twitter, or taken a look at bumpers as you sat in traffic, you know Americans are expressive people. For this, we can thank the First Amendment, which protects even vulgar expression. Indeed, in 1971, the Supreme Court upheld the right of Paul Robert Cohen to wear his jacket, which urged sexual relations with the wartime draft, in a courthouse.
Today, the Supreme Court will hear arguments in a less salacious, but no less important, First Amendment case. Minnesota Voters Alliance v. Mansky asks whether Americans may be barred from wearing “political apparel” when casting a ballot. This policy led to a voter being threatened with prosecution for the “crime” of wearing a nonpartisan t-shirt inspired by the Gadsden flag, the “Don’t Tread on Me” symbol flown by patriots during the American Revolution.
Certainly, if the First Amendment protects profane apparel in a courthouse, Americans ought have the right to wear our opinions at the moment we the people decide who should govern…
At an absolute minimum, as my organization, the Institute for Free Speech, urged in our amicus brief in this case, the Supreme Court should instruct state and local governments to find the middle ground: Only apparel expressly urging a vote for or against a specific candidate on that day’s ballot may be excluded. This line, called “express advocacy,” has been applied and policed in campaign finance law for a generation.