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Freedom of expression case before US Supreme Court aimed at Minnesota law

A Minnesota man who was turned away at a voting booth in 2010 is part of a case headed to the US Supreme Court at the end of the month.

The case, Minnesota Voters Alliance vs. Mansky, challenges Minnesota's law on what clothes can be worn to the polls.

Andy Cilek is the man at the center of the case. "The thing I want from this lawsuit is the same thing I wanted on Election Day in 2010: and that is, simply, to wear what I want when I vote, and to vote peacefully."

Cilek says he was wearing a t-shirt with an image of a Gadsen flag and slogan that read "Don't tread on me." He says an election official told him he needed to change his shirt, prevented him from voting for five hours and took his name down for possible criminal prosecution. Cilek says as the law stands, it violates not only his First Amendment rights but the rights of every other American. He also says the law is confusing, and open for interpretation.

"Here is the real problem: when I say I 'might' be hassled, one election judge might not see anything wrong with a certain shirt, but a different election judge might. I see this as subtle voter suppression. Some people who may be ambivalent about voting anyway might decide they don't want their clothes to be analyzed and assessed for election judge correctness. When it becomes known that the state is allowed to threaten one person over his or her perfectly legitimate social expression, others may hear, 'watch what you say.'"

Dave Breemer is a senior attorney for Pacific Legal Foundation, the firm bringing the case. He says the statute bans all apparel with any political messaging.

"Wearing that material with those kinds of saying just isn't incompatible with the purpose of a polling place. There's no evidence that any polling place was ever disrupted by this material, or that it caused a fight or anything like that. It's purely a suppressive measure that inhibits free political association and expression, which is the entire purpose of the First Amendment. And that is going to be the essence of our case before the Supreme Court in a couple weeks."

Breemer says the Supreme Court must affirm that laws banning peaceful, passive display of political speech are against the First Amendment.

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