Your shirt or your vote: Texans fight to protect free speech at the ballot box
February 28, 2019
Houston, Texas; February 28, 2019: A federal lawsuit filed today asks a judge to overturn a polling place dress code in Texas that forces voters to choose between their freedom of expression and their ability to vote.
When Jillian Ostrewich entered her Houston, Texas, polling place in 2018, she expected the only decisions she’d face would be on the ballot. Instead, an election judge gave her an ultimatum: turn her shirt inside out or forfeit her vote. Similarly, a Dallas-area election judge ordered Tony Ortiz to turn his “Make America Great Again” hat inside out (or remove it) before he could vote. Under state law, both faced prosecution and arrest if they didn’t obey.
“It’s unconscionable that election judges have the power to infringe on the right to wear something as benign as a Houston Firefighters t-shirt,” said Jillian. “When people let little things like an election dress code go by, all of a sudden you’re losing your freedom.”
“I just wanted to wear my hat,” Tony said. “There’s no name on it, and even if you associate it with the President, he wasn’t on the ballot so it’s silly to ban it. This law is too broad, incredibly unfair, and should be challenged.”
Jillian and Tony have brought a First Amendment challenge to the Texas law based on last year’s Supreme Court decision that invalidated a similar measure in Minnesota.
“One year ago today, Pacific Legal Foundation argued Minnesota Voters Alliance v. Mansky—and won. The Supreme Court held that the voting booth is no more a First Amendment-free zone than a college campus or a public square,” said PLF attorney Wen Fa. “Today’s lawsuit seeks to hold Texas accountable to the same rule of law.”
PLF represents Jillian and Tony free of charge. More information is available at pacificlegal.org/TXapparel.
Pacific Legal Foundation is a national nonprofit legal organization that defends Americans threatened by government overreach and abuse. Since our founding in 1973, we challenge the government when it violates individual liberty and constitutional rights. With active cases in 34 states plus Washington, D.C., PLF represents clients in state and federal courts, with 17 wins of 19 cases litigated at the U.S. Supreme Court.