Supreme Court

SCOTUS Rules 7-2 Against State Law Banning 'Political' Attire at Polling Places

A big win for First Amendment advocates in Minnesota Voters Alliance v. Mansky.



Today the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a sweeping Minnesota law that banned voters from wearing "political" badges, button, insignia, or attire inside polling places on election day. The ban applied to all apparel "designed to influence and impact voting" or "promoting a group with recognizable political views." According to the majority opinion of Chief Justice John Roberts, "the First Amendment prohibits laws 'abridging the freedom of speech.' 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."

The case is Minnesota Voters Alliance v. Mansky. It originated in 2010 when Andrew Cilek, the executive director of the conservative group Minnesota Voters Alliance, tried to vote while wearing a t-shirt adorned with an image of the Gadsen Flag, the phrase "Don't Tread on Me," and a Tea Party Patriots logo. Cilek was also wearing a "Please I.D. Me" button from the conservative group Election Integrity Watch.

In other words, this case asked whether or not a state government may ban voters from wearing "Don't Tread on Me" t-shirts at the polls. By a vote of 7-2, the Supreme Court held that the First Amendment trumps the state law.

Chief Justice Roberts' majority opinion was joined by Justices Anthony Kennedy, Clarence Thomas, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Samuel Alito, Elena Kagan, and Neil Gorsuch.

Writing in dissent, Justice Sonia Sotomayor, joined by Justice Stephen Breyer, maintained that the Court should have avoided a constitutional ruling and instead turned the case over "to the Minnesota Supreme Court for a definitive interpretation of the political apparel ban."

Sotomayor and Breyer wanted to save the law from total destruction. "Especially where there are undisputedly many constitutional applications of a state law that further weighty state interests," Sotomayor wrote, "the Court should be wary of invalidating a law without giving the State's highest court an opportunity to pass upon it." Unfortunately for the two dissenters, the rest of the Court saw no reason to withhold final judgment.

The law's demise comes as no surprise to me. During the February 28 oral arguments, the lawyer representing Minnesota elections official Joe Mansky admitted that the state could even ban voters from wearing t-shirts that feature nothing else but the text of the Second Amendment. His reasoning? The amendment's language "could be viewed as political."

"How about the First Amendment?" asked Justice Samuel Alito, prompting laughter in the courtroom. The law's fate was pretty much sealed at that point. Banning voters from wearing First Amendment t-shirts would certainly seem to qualify as an overly broad restriction on freedom of speech.

In his ruling today, the chief justice stressed that constitutional failing. "Would a 'Support Our Troops' shirt be banned, if one of the candidates or parties had expressed a view on military funding or aid for veterans?" Roberts wrote. "What about a #MeToo shirt, referencing the movement to increase awareness of sexual harassment and assault? At oral argument, the State indicated that the ban would cover such an item if a candidate had 'brought up' the topic."

In short, a far-reaching restriction on political expression was overruled by a strong majority of the Supreme Court. Minnesota Voters Alliance v. Mansky is an important win for First Amendment advocates.

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  1. “Sotomayor and Breyer wanted to save the law from total destruction”

    But, what if the State required you to wear a shirt at the polling place? That would be more complicated, it would appear. Because on the one hand “wear the shirt, bigot” and on the other hand “WTF is wrong with people”.

    1. Say, a t-shirt with a picture of a brussels sprout or broccoli.

      1. “What if we considered the t-shirt to be a tax?”

        – Justice Roberts

        “A cake t-shirt is the hate speech of pastry apparel and therefore has no constitutional protections”

        – RBG

  2. Voters — while proceeding directly and without delay to the voting location, voting, and leaving without delay — should be entitled to wear what they wish, whether a “Half-Educated Goobers For Trump” shirt or a “Fuck Trump” hat.

    1. Or assholes for Hillary!

      1. They’d need to reduce their education far below the half-educated point before they’re enthusiastic for Hillary.

        1. There are people enthusiastic for Hillary? I got the sense that everyone who voted for her was, at best, excited about having a woman in the White House; otherwise, everyone I met who was voting for her seemed ambivalent or holding their nose.

          1. I never met an actual #Withered (oops, #WithHer) enthusiast, but I’ve heard about sightings. These may be apocryphal stories.

          2. “”There are people enthusiastic for Hillary?””

            I know many who are.

            But I live in NYC.

          3. “”There are people enthusiastic for Hillary?””

            I know many who are.

            But I live in NYC.

            1. Not so many anymore. They all left for Canada, seeking asylum..

              But they were turned back a the border.

          4. I was, both times. It’s mostly that I’m a homosexual and thus have a thing for women in positions of power. It could have been anyone, though, really. Liz Warren, Meryl Streep, whatever.

            1. Once again, I’m reminded of what an idiot I was in my younger days.

              Also, I have somebody for Past Me’s list: Margaret Thatcher.

            2. Hell, I’m straight and have this thing for strong women.

              Mmmm. Ann Coulter…

              My dark mistress…

      2. Hey, Sevo, you know why Chipper has a bug up his ass over you? Because he’s taken to calling you “Red Hihn” despite the fact that Hihn isn’t particularly left-leaning?just annoying, incoherent, suffering from some mental disorder, unable to articulate and defend his arguments clearly, short-tempered?

        Well, anyway, why’s Chipper got that bug up his ass?

        1. Our brave cheerleaders

          1. …was this posted in the wrong place or was it meant as a response?

            1. No. I think it’s wonderful that our brave cheerleaders are here to tell us who is pushing wrong think that does not toe the party line.

              1. So…the bug up Chipper’s ass is there because…

      3. Feckless cunts for Hillary

        1. I wonder if Samantha Bee would wear that shirt?

      4. Ben Dover for Hillary!

      5. Cause she’s our favorite turd!

    2. The MN regulators promoting this now defunct law were apparently only concerned about banning messages contrary to their progressive agenda. Like Second Amendment, Gadsden Flags, and other, as you say, :Goober for Trump” sorts of things.

      If you think about it at all, do you seriously believe in such draconian measures? Does it ever occur to you that, as with the Democratically established “nuclear option,” that it could eventually be used against you?

      Do you have any principles at all, or are you just [as I suspect] an ideological troll [that’s a rhetorical question, by the way]?

    3. You are highly misinformed. Your blanket statement is not what Republicans are about. Your perspective on these things is very skewed and you really should stop trying to vilify your political opponent and instead try to understand the ideas that we represent. And no, it’s not racism or bigotry or less education. That’s an easy out that only a shallow, malcontent, willfully ignorant person would take.

      We believe in personal responsibility.
      We believe in limited government as defined by our constitution.
      We believe the free market will solve most problems if left to work as it should.
      We believe that people are most happy when they have control over their own lives and are enabled to pursue their happiness.

      1. Your listing of Republican beliefs explains right-wingers’ love of the drug war, massive military spending, government micromanagement of health care clinics for women, government secrecy, gay-bashing, tariffs, foreign belligerence (including pre-emptive invasion — of the wrong country), voter suppression, torture, corporate welfare and protectionism, abusive policing, government surveillance, endless detention without trial, and whittling of the Fourth Amendment.

        Carry on, clingers. Without self-awareness, apparently.

        1. Of course many of those things are bipartisan. Which doesn’t take away from your point.

        2. Caricature your opponents and then vilify them for being such caricatures. I guess Kirkland thinks that’s okay because he makes a caricature of himself every time he posts.

          1. I hate to agree with anything Kirkland posts, but the point behind his sarcasm is far more reflective of reality than gimmedatribeye’s dreamy, fantastic formulation.

            It may be a caricature, but he’s observation that y’all utterly lack self-awareness is all the more driven home by the apparent fact that you can’t appreciate the truth behind his irony.

            1. “It may be a caricature but I sure do wish it were true”

              Man I long for the days of 2009-2011 when we had no drug war, no massive military spending, no government micromanagement of health care, no government secrecy, no gay-bashing, no tariffs, no foreign belligerence, no voter suppression, no torture, no corporate welfare and protectionism, no abusive policing, no government surveillance, no endless detention without trial, and no whittling of the Fourth Amendment. I mean, Democrats had a veto and filibuster proof majority in both houses as well as the presidency so all of those evil Republican political values went away, right?

            2. It may be a caricature, but he’s observation that y’all utterly lack self-awareness is all the more driven home by the apparent fact that you can’t appreciate the truth behind his irony.

              This would be nonsense if weren’t merely gibberish.

        3. I’m all for pre-emptive invasion of the wrong country. Should I become a Republican?

    4. I’m acephalic and I vote Democrat/Republican!

  3. What about some Russki gifs on your phone, huh? That could change the whole election!

  4. “Don’t Tread on Me”

    But… that’s hate speech! /faints

  5. Wear a shirt saying “vote against the crook.”

    Are the poll-watchers for one of the candidate going to say, “hey, you’re campaigning against us!”

    1. Damn, bud, that’s awesome!

    2. Eidde: “Wear a shirt saying ‘vote against the crook.'”

      Or, in Louisiana, in the Edwin Edwards vs. David Duke 1991 Gubernatorial election: “Vote for the crook. It’s important!”

      (yes — true bumper sticker)

  6. Does anyone really believe wearing a button or t-shirt with a saying, true or false, will actual change the mind of a voter walking into the polling station?

    Oh wait, that’s basically the premise of the Russian collusion story.

    1. Exactly

      1. What’s funny is that the anti-trump crowd thinks it’s true because they already convinced themselves pro-trump people are stupid. Therefore would fall for it.

        1. Why would anyone think that the people who have been on the wrong end of bright flight for generations are less than brilliant, accomplished, and admirable?

          1. An overvalued sense of self?

          2. Like fake reverends?

            1. He’s as much a Reverend as Obama was a Christian

          3. Makes you wonder how they got so dumb from 2012 when they voted for Obama to 2016 when they voted for Trump.

        2. But if they are pro-Trump people, then there is no need to get them to fall for it.

          1. Of course. And there are people who wasn’t pro-trump that didn’t like Hillary and voted for Trump.

            It’s wasn’t Russian collusion that cause people to vote for Trump. But some people believe that.

        3. It goes to the mindset of Obama and his ilk. The cliche that the right was always fearing Russians under the bed is just too ingrained in them. So they had the ‘brilliant’ idea to turn it around and weaponize it against Trump. Figuring that if people thought he was working with the Russians that they’d abandon him in droves.

          A very Alinksy move, but one that failed miserably, because the people who actually support Trump are not the cartoon characters of their stunted red-diaper minds.

    2. “Oh wait, that’s basically the premise of the Russian collusion story.”

      See ‘gifs’ above.
      If it did, would you want the person elected by them in any position higher than dog-catcher?

      1. “”If it did, would you want the person elected by them in any position higher than dog-catcher?”‘

        I don’t think it would matter to me, in that I don’t think who votes for you makes up who you are. That’s the fallacy used to claim Trump is a Nazi or white supremacist. Which I don’t believe.

  7. “But, officer, none of the candidates objected to my “Don’t Vote for Sheepfuckers” button, no harm, no foul, right?”

    1. “You dumbass, don’t you realize I’m a sheepfucker? Now excuse me while my body cam suffers a mysterious ‘malfunction’ for ten minutes.”

      1. All the more reason for that proverbial sheep, in congress with a couple of wolves, to be armed….

      2. Don’t be ridiculous. Cop dicks don’t work. Ask any disappointed-looking sheep.

  8. Good news indeed.

  9. This seems like an obvious decision. Which makes the fact that it was 7-2 seem really bizarre. The dissent seems to amount to, “We should give the Minnesota Supreme Court a chance to write a definition of ‘political’ that survives a First Amendment challenge, since the legislature didn’t do so,” with a side of, “This is the first time it’s been challenged, so it must be OK.”

    1. I guess right-wingers figure that their promotion of intolerance and backwardness is going well enough that they can take an occasional breather on states’ rights.

      1. I guess strawmen figure that just because they’re so good at scaring crows from their fields that I’m not going to beat and set fire to them. Well, they’ve got another think coming.

  10. The majority was way too timid, leaving the door open for more “sensible” apparel restrictions because a bunch of states seem to agree they’re necessary and that consensus should be respected. No! The protection against intimidation is a secret ballot. The protection against brawls is criminal law. The protection against a world without peace and provocation is a thick skin and has no place in legislation that obviously conflicts with the heart of the First Amendment.

    The dissent is a real peach. Past enforcement shows it’s not a problem? The case at hand shows that’s absurd. The Minnesota Supreme Court can pull something out of its butt to legislate a narrower interpretation of “political” from the bench? Oy vey.

    1. Upvoted.

  11. Chief Justice Roberts’ majority opinion was joined by Justices Anthony Kennedy, Clarence Thomas, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Samuel Alito, and Elena Kagan.

    Reason left out Gorsuch?! It must be a vast TDS conspiracy to de-legitimize Trump’s legacy. RABBLE RABBLE!

    1. You took the words right out of my mouse.

  12. The dissent approves of the goal of preserving “an island of calm in which voters can peacefully contemplate their choices.” So having not contemplated your choices prior to walking into the polling station, you now require a serene oasis to…what? Play eenie meenie miney mo?

  13. Funny: you can’t prevent someone from voting if they don’t have ID.

    But you can prevent hem from voting for the bass T-shirt.

    Way to stay consistent, Minnesota.

  14. This will probably lead to some sporadic rudeness at polling places, maybe even organized rudeness. But hard to square the law with 1A in the end.

  15. You only listed 8 justices. Great job, Reason.

  16. Sotomayor and Breyer.


    1. Of course they’d favor any law that might “further weighty state interests.” As if protecting the enumerated rights of the citizens isn’t high on that fucking list.

    2. I was pretty sure it was SS and RBG from the headline.

  17. I like to wear my t-shirt that says

    “The government is the greatest evil ever invented by god, the ass hat. “

  18. So Sotomayor and Breyer literally believe that it is not their job to protect the 1st Amendment.

  19. Oh, the opportunity has passed.
    If only. Some third-party candidate could have told his supporters, and everyone else, “Vote for me. Wear clothes to the polls f you agree”.
    Darn it.

    1. Too bad this site doesn’t have an edit option. I’ve already replaced my keyboard for causing too many typos. I’m a bit more reluctant to replace the operator.
      That should have been if, not f.

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