The Supreme Court has agreed to determine whether a Minnesota statute that prohibits wearing political apparel in polling places is unconstitutional.
State election officials issued a policy citing examples of political apparel, including "issue oriented material created to influence or impact voting" and "material promoting a group with recognizable political views".
The court will take up a case originally filed in 2010 by three conservative or libertarian groups: the Minnesota North Star Tea Party Patriots, the Minnesota Majority and the Minnesota Voters Alliance. Lower courts found that the law did not violate the Constitution, but the Minnesota groups that launched the legal battle are now hoping the country's highest court sees things differently. Several of those officials declined to comment, citing the pending litigation, or could not be reached. The court said states have a legitimate interest in upholding "peace, order and decorum" at polling places. and the law is viewpoint neutral.
After a federal district judge and an appeals court upheld the law, Cilek turned to the Supreme Court, arguing that Minnesota's suppression of political speech was a matter of national importance, particularly because nine other states similarly ban political apparel in and near the voting booths, including Texas.
Lawyers for Cilek say that nine other states have almost identical political apparel bans.
"The state (of Minnesota) admitted that the ban applies not only to the Tea Party, but to groups like the Chamber of Commerce or the AFL-CIO", he said. The area of the ban begins 100 feet from the polling place door, and violators can be charged with a Class C misdemeanor, which carries a fine of up to $500 but no jail time. The group includes the Minnesota Voters Alliance and Cilek, its executive director. He worries that election officials could clamp down on everything from people wearing shirts with messages related to their support for or against abortion rights, to someone wearing a Minnesota Vikings jersey amid a heated political debate over the construction of the team's new stadium. He also wore a badge saying "Please ID me", a slogan supporting a voter identification law, with Election Integrity Watch's website and telephone number printed on it.