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Political Apparel at the Polls Now Allowed in Minnesota

To the surprise of many, the challenge to the Minnesota law banning political badges, political buttons, or other political insignia at polling places was successful in the U.S. Supreme Court case Minnesota Voter Alliance v. Mansky.

The High Court held that the law violates the First Amendment rights of voters because, as the law is written, it's just too vague. The 7 to 2 majority opinion explains that the wording of law does not provide individuals, nor those tasked with working the polls, clear definitions as what qualifies as "political." Reading through the opinion, though, it is clear that SCOTUS does see a path whereby such restrictions on apparel could cut Constitutional muster.

What Isn't Political?

As commentators noted after the oral argument, the justices seemed to really grapple with the question of what apparel, or insignia, wouldn't actually qualify as political. From MAGA hats and clothing, to #MeToo pins, to even hats with flashing lights.

The Court's opinion pulled out the old Webster's dictionary to quote part of the definition: "a word that can broadly encompass anything 'of or relating to government, a government, or the conduct of governmental affairs.'" From there, the Court analyzed how Minnesota interpreted the ban, and found a significant issue with the state's guidance for "issue oriented material designed to influence or impact voting." In short, the Court found that this category of banned apparel placed too high a burden on individuals and poll judges to suss out what is or isn't political.

A bigger issue, according to the majority, was that the ban also encompassed apparel that is "promoting a group with recognizable political views," like the ban on "issue oriented material." The Court explained that this category also was too vague to be uniformly enforced.

Justice Undefined

The two dissenting justices, Justices Sotomayor and Breyer, explain that while they agree with much of what the majority held, the Court was too hasty. The dissent explains that the question of interpretation of the Minnesota state law should have been certified to the Minnesota Supreme Court before SCOTUS chimed in. Justice Sotomayor, authoring the dissent, explains that getting the state's highest court's input could have negated the majority's "hypothetical line-drawing problems."

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