June 14 (UPI) — The U.S. Supreme Court struck down a controversial law Thursday that required Minnesota voters to follow a specific dress code when they cast ballots.
In a 7-2 decision, the high court revoked a century-old Minnesota law that barred voters from wearing politically affiliated clothing at polling places.
The ban covered all articles of clothing and accessories that contained a political insignia or message. Violators were subject to a fine or petty misdemeanor charge.
Clothing that speaks to an issue on the ballot or promotes a group with recognizable political views are also banned. Examples include a National Rifle Association T-shirt or one with the text of the Second Amendment.
Cheif Justice John Roberts, writing for the court, said Minnesota’s law was vague and open to confusion at times, and noted it must be guided by workable and objective standards.
“Without them, an election judge’s own politics may shape his views on what counts as ‘political.’ And if voters experience or witness episodes of unfair or inconsistent enforcement of the ban, the State’s interest in maintaining a polling place free of distraction and disruption would be undermined by the very measure intended to further it,” Roberts wrote.
Delaware, Kansas, Montana, New Jersey, New York, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Vermont all have similar laws to Minnesota’s. South Carolina also has a restriction, but it applies only to what can be worn inside the polling place by candidates themselves, not voters.
“Minnesota, like other states, has sought to strike the balance in a way that affords the voter the opportunity to exercise his civic duty in a setting removed from the clamor and din of electioneering,” Roberts wrote. “While that choice is generally worthy of our respect, Minnesota has not supported its good intentions with a law capable of reasoned application.”
Roberts noted the broad definition of the law could ban a t-shirt that simply said “Vote!” or a t-shirt saying “Support our Troops” or “#MeToo.”
Justice Sonia Sotomayor, joined by Stephen Breyer in the dissenting opinion, argued there was no evidence the Minnesota statute was interpreted or applied in an unreasonable manner.
“There is no evidence that any individual who refused to remove a political item has been prohibited from voting, and respondents maintain that no one has been referred for prosecution for violating the provision,” Sotomayor wrote.
The case was brought to the court by Andrew Cilek, who went to a polling place in 2010 wearing a shirt with a Tea Party logo and the words “Don’t Tread on Me.” Election workers initially stopped him from casting a ballot, but eventually let him vote.