As the United States Supreme Court heads into the summer months, the justices issued a 7-2 opinion, Minnesota Voters Alliance v. Mansky, written by Chief Justice John Roberts, reversing and remanding an 8th Circuit Court of Appeals case out of Minnesota. The U.S. Supreme Court held that Minnesota’s political apparel ban in polling places violates the free speech clause of the First Amendment.
Currently, Minnesota law prohibits individuals, including voters, from wearing “political badges, political buttons or other political insignia inside a polling place on Election Day.” Many states, including New Jersey, have the same or similar prohibitions. The court agreed with Minnesota that a state may limit apparel in the polling place that could be seen as campaign advocacy in order to provide a polling place that is an “island of calm in which the voters can peacefully contemplate their choices.” The court also agreed that a Minnesota polling place qualifies as a nonpublic forum which may be subject to content-based restrictions on speech, so long as the restrictions are “reasonable and do not constitute an effort to suppress expression.” However, the court found the state’s statute prohibiting advocacy at the polls was subject to multiple interpretations and was therefore not reasonable.
However, don’t take this decision as applicable to New Jersey just yet. Only Minnesota’s current law was before the court and the court expressly reserved its decision to the facts before it. Additionally, the seven justice majority strongly suggested that states look at their own political insignia laws and provide sufficient guidance to state voters to know what is or is not considered political. According to the court, “the line the State draws must be reasonable. The State therefore must be able to articulate some sensible basis for distinguishing what may come in and what must stay out.” Specifically, the court found fault with the Minnesota statute’s failure to define “political” in its law.
New Jersey’s version of this law is found at N.J.S.A.19:34-19 “Insignia at Polls” and states:
No person shall display, sell, give or provide any political badge, button or other insignia to be worn at or within one hundred feet of the polls or within the polling place or room, on any primary, general or special election day or on any commission government election day, except the badge furnished by the county board as herein provided.
A person violating any of the provisions of this section shall be guilty of a disorderly persons offense.
Stay tuned as to whether or not New Jersey’s law will be challenged or reviewed by the Legislature as a result of this decision. Right now New Jersey’s law remains valid as written.