Minnesota Waives Right to Respond in U.S. Supreme Court Over Law Banning “Political Clothes” at Polls

Minnesota has a law banning voters at the polls from wearing any clothing, or anything on their person, with a political message. The ban doesn’t just cover messages relating to items that are on the ballot. Most states that have restrictions on clothing at the polls limit the restriction to clothes that relate to some candidate, party, or ballot measure that is actually on the ballot in that election; Minnesota’s ban is far broader.

The lower federal courts upheld the Minnesota law in Minnesota Voters Alliance v Mansky, and the plaintiffs then asked for U.S. Supreme Court review, case 16-1435. On June 15, Minnesota told the U.S. Supreme Court that it waives its right to file a brief in this case. If the U.S. Supreme Court is interested in hearing this case, it will undoubtedly ask the state to respond. But that won’t be until October 2017 at the earliest, because the Court is about to go on its summer recess.

The particular clothing items in this case were T-shirts mentioning the Tea Party. The Tea Party has never been on the ballot in Minnesota, where it has only functioned as a pressure group.

U.S. Supreme Court Trademark Decision Might Affect Election Law as Well

On June 19, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a federal law that says the Patent and Trademark Office must not approve any trademark that may “disparage…or bring…into contempt or disrepute” any “persons, living or dead.” The decision, Matal v Tam, 15-1293, is unanimous.

The basis for the decision is the free speech portion of the First Amendment. The government had tried to defend the law by saying that when the government grants a trademark, that is really government speech. The Court rejected that argument.

The government also tried to defend the law by saying government can restrict speech if the government is creating a valuable platform for the person or group which applies for the trademark. The Court rejected that argument as well.

The government argued that the law treated everyone alike, because no one is permitted to register certain types of names, but that argument was also rejected.

The logic of this decision would seem to apply to Voter Handbooks, which are created by state governments in some states and mailed to every registered voter. These Handbooks typically let parties or candidates publicize their message. Sometimes governments try to restrict what the party or candidate says. For example, in 2016, the California Secretary of State refused to let one candidate for U.S. Senate, Paul Merritt, say that he is a registered independent. Also the California law does not permit any candidate to mention his or her opponent.

Merritt is currently suing over the censorship of his 2016 statement in the California voters handbook. The case is still in U.S. District Court.

Connecticut Voter Who Sued Over Being Expelled from the Republican Party Fails to get Any Relief in Federal Court

In 2015, Jane Miller, a former Republican nominee for public office and a registered Republican, was expelled from the Republican Party. She therefore was unable to vote in the closed Republican presidential primary in early 2016. She filed a federal lawsuit in April 2016 charging that the Republican Party violated her rights. However, on March 29, 2017, U.S. District Court Judge Alvin Thompson, a Clinton appointee, ruled against her. Miller v Dunkerton, 3:16cv-174.

The federal court ruled mostly on procedural grounds, arguing that her state court case (which she had lost) prevents the federal court from re-litigating the matter. Miller had been expelled because she had temporarily changed her affiliation to “independent” in order to be nominated by the local Democratic Party for a local partisan office. She did not win that election, and after it was over re-registered Republican, but then her new Republican registration was cancelled. Connecticut state law permits parties to block people from registering if they are deemed to be insincere. New York has a similar law. Last year, though, she was readmitted to the Republican Party.