January 5, 2018

PLF files opening brief at Supreme Court in Minnesota Voters Alliance v. Mansky

By Wen Fa Attorney

Pacific Legal Foundation today filed its Petitioners’ Brief on the Merits in Minnesota Voters Alliance v. Mansky, a case pending before the Supreme Court of the United States. The Court granted review on November 13, 2017, and oral argument will be held on February 28.

In Minnesota Voters Alliance, PLF represents Minnesota voters in their First Amendment challenge to a law that bans apparel with a logo of any group with a “recognizable political view,” from the National Rifle Association to the NAACP. Lead client Andy Cilek is a Minnesota voter who was prevented from voting for five hours, and had his name taken down for potential criminal prosecution just for wearing a Tea Party shirt. Rather than endorse any candidate or ballot measure, the shirt merely featured an image of the Gadsden flag and the words “Don’t tread on me.”

To justify its actions, the government pointed to a Minnesota law that bans political badges, buttons, and other political insignia at polling places throughout the State. Cilek, along with the Minnesota Voters Alliance and others, filed a federal civil rights lawsuit and argued that the law violated the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment. Rather than discarding its broad law, the government doubled down on the statute’s sheer breadth by acknowledging that the law bans, in addition to Tea Party apparel, the apparel of every group from the Chamber of Commerce to the AFL-CIO.

In our brief, we note that no conceivable governmental interest can support such a broad ban on expression. Further, because what is and is not “political” is generally left to the whim of an election official, the Minnesota law invites discrimination on the basis of viewpoint. Liberal election judges may be more inclined think that those wearing a NRA shirt are violating the statute; conservative election judges might freely dish out punishment to voters wearing ACLU t-shirts. The potential for abuse with this broad law is obvious and untenable.

PLF is fighting for the Free Speech rights of voters of every political viewpoint, regardless of whether they wish to express their affinity for the Tea Party or the AFL-CIO. And because nine other states have similar laws, we’re  fighting for the First Amendment rights of voters nationwide. As I stated at a press conference when this case was granted:

I say to you today that we’re not just fighting for voters in Minnesota that want to wear Tea Party shirts that say “liberty or don’t tread on me.” We’re fighting for small business owners in Tennessee who want to wear Chamber of Commerce shirts. We’re fighting for union members in New York who want to wear AFL-CIO shirts. We’re fighting for sportsmen in Texas who want to wear NRA shirts. And we’re fighting for civil rights advocates in Vermont who want to wear shirts that say NAACP. We’re fighting for you, no matter what your views, no matter where you live, for your First Amendment right to free speech.

We expect many briefs in support of our clients — and the First Amendment — next Friday. The government’s brief is due around February 5th, and our reply will be due on February 20. A decision is expected no later than June.

learn more about

Minnesota Voters Alliance v. Mansky

On February 28, 2018, the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral argument in our case challenging a Minnesota election law that literally strips free speech rights from the backs of voters. A Minnesota state law prohibits voters from wearing “political” apparel at a polling place. This includes any t-shirt, button, or other item that identifies any political issue and even any organization that is known to take positions on political issues. Voters who wear AFL-CIO or NRA caps are told they must remove them before they can enter the polling place and vote. If they refuse, election officials take their names for possible prosecution and penalties up to $5,000. Lower courts upheld this law on the theory that government can ban all expression, besides voting, at a polling place.

Read more

What to read next