WASHINGTON (Reuters) – States cannot completely bar people from wearing T-shirts, buttons or other apparel bearing political messages in polling sites, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on Thursday in an important free speech decision striking down a Minnesota law as unconstitutional.
The court, in the 7-2 ruling, said Minnesota’s law, which dates back to 1912, went too far in banning political apparel but left room for states to limit what should be allowed in polling places and what should not. The justices sent the case back down to the lower court.
Minnesota has tried to promote voting “in a setting removed from the clamor and din of electioneering,” conservative Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in the opinion. “While that choice is generally worthy of our respect, Minnesota has not supported its good intentions with a law capable of reasoned application.”
Roberts was joined by the other four conservatives on the court as well as liberal justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Elena Kagan. Liberal Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Stephen Breyer dissented from the decision.
Delaware, Kansas, Montana, New Jersey, New York, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont and South Carolina impose restrictions similar to Minnesota’s.
The Supreme Court endorsed the argument advanced by the conservative activists who challenged Minnesota’s law, finding that it ran afoul of the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment guarantee of freedom of speech.
The justices issued the ruling against a backdrop of deepening political polarization in America. In another major ruling involving free speech at polling sites, the high court in 1992 upheld a Tennessee law that barring the solicitation of votes and the display or distribution of campaign materials within 100 feet (30 meters) of a polling place.
Reporting by Andrew Chung; Editing by Will Dunham