Photographer: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg

Political T-Shirts at Polling Place Get U.S. Supreme Court Hearing

The U.S. Supreme Court will consider guaranteeing the right of people to wear political T-shirts and buttons when they vote, accepting an appeal that could expand First Amendment rights at polling places.

The justices said they will review a Minnesota law whose challengers include Andrew Cilek, a man who wore a Tea Party Patriots T-shirt and a "Please I.D. Me" button when he went to the polls in 2010.

Minnesota is one of at least 10 states with broad bans on political apparel at election sites, according to the challengers. A decision striking down those laws would mark a significant shift for the high court, which in 1992 upheld a Tennessee law that barred campaign materials promoting a specific candidate or party. That law didn’t mention more general political items.

That ruling "plainly does not endorse a categorical ban on all types of ‘political’ speech," the challengers argued in their appeal. The group includes the Minnesota Voters Alliance and Cilek, its executive director.

Minnesota’s law bars the wearing of a "political badge, political button or other political insignia" inside the polling place. State officials, including Attorney General Nathan Hartshorn, urged the Supreme Court not to hear the case, saying lower courts have uniformly upheld similar rules elsewhere.

The law "is a reasonable method to ensure that the polling place is a location where citizens can exercise the right to vote without confusion, distraction or distress, and election officials can preserve the integrity and reliability of elections," the state officials argued.

The court will decide the case next year, before the congressional midterm election. The case is Minnesota Voters Alliance v. Mansky, 16-1435.

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