Earlier this fall, a federal district court in California entered an order dismissing a challenge to election sign regulations promulgated by the City of Coalinga, California.  Coalinga had a sign regulation that prohibited the display of election signs more than 60 days prior to and more than seven days after an election.  June Vera Sanchez and the Dolores Huerta Foundation sought to display political messages outside of the election season, and challenged the regulation on First Amendment grounds in an action filed in June 2018.  Following the filing of the lawsuit, in July 2018, the city amended its regulations to withdraw the challenged election sign regulation.  In August 2018, the city filed a motion to dismiss, arguing that the plaintiffs lacked standing to bring their claim and that the action was moot. Continue Reading California City Successfully Moots Challenge By Withdrawing Election Sign Rules

Buttons like the one above would have been prohibited from polling places under the Minnesota law. Source: Ken Rudin’s Political Junkie.

Tea Partiers in the Land of 10,000 Lakes, as well as those hipsters who like to wear vintage political t-shirts (think “Nixon’s the One!” or “LBJ All the Way!”) on election day scored a big victory at the Supreme Court last week.  In a 7-2 decision, the Court held that a Minnesota law prohibiting individuals from wearing or displaying certain types of political attire was unconstitutional under the First Amendment.  The Minnesota law in question also prohibited displays of campaign materials within 100 feet of a polling place and the distribution of political materials to be worn at a polling place.

The law was challenged by a Tea Party group, and was upheld by lower courts.

Applying the public forum doctrine, the Supreme Court found in Minnesota Voters Alliance v. Mansky that the interior of a polling place constitutes a nonpublic forum.  In a nonpublic forum, speech regulations must be viewpoint neutral and reasonable in light of the purposes of the forum.  While the Court observed that Minnesota could constitutionally prohibit political attire, buttons, and other paraphernalia from the interior of a polling place, it found that the law in question failed the reasonableness standard.  The Court noted, for example, that the statute failed to define the term “political,” such that voters and those enforcing the law had no standards by which to determine what attire would pass muster.  While local polling places had been issued some guidance on the issue, the Court found that the guidance similarly lacked clarity regarding what constituted political speech.  The Court observed that other states, including California and Texas, had much clearer laws that narrowed the class of prohibited speech to that which advocates for or against a candidate or ballot measure appearing on the ballot. Continue Reading Supreme Court to Minnesotans: Wear Your Political Buttons, Badges, and T-Shirts to the Polls

One of the signs in question in the Baldwin Park litigation. Source: The Legal Lens.

Last month, a federal district court in California ruled that the City of Baldwin Park’s sign ordinance was likely unconstitutional, even after the city amended the ordinance amidst a legal challenge.  The code allowed property owners additional signage and flag displays during certain times of the year, including election season and around holidays, respectively, and allowed businesses to display additional signage during promotional events.

The case originated when community members, including individuals and business owners, displayed signs alleging corruption by a local politician.  Baldwin Park enforced its code, which prohibited the signs in question.  The individuals and business owners filed a First Amendment challenge.  The city then amended its code, and the amended code is now in question. Continue Reading Court Grants Motion for Preliminary Injunction in California Sign Code Case

The case involved a dispute between the Minnesota Tea Party and election judges. Source: MinnPost.

In February, the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed a Minnesota district court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of the state, finding that the government could effectively prohibit political speech in polling places.  In a short decision, the court determined that speech by members of the Tea Party was properly restricted from polling locations.

Minnesota has a state statute that prohibits individuals from wearing political buttons or other insignia in polling places on election days.  The state issued a policy guide which was intended to assist election judges with the types of material that constituted political speech, which included “issue-oriented” material or material that promoted groups with political ends.  Failure to abide by the restriction could result in prosecution for a criminal misdemeanor.  The group that challenged the law included several members who wished to bear the insignia of the Tea Party in polling places. Continue Reading Eighth Circuit Affirms That Government Can Prohibit Political Speech in Polling Places

Late last month, the First Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a lower court decision finding that a New Hampshire law prohibiting digital photography of completed election ballots violated the First Amendment.  In the case of Rideout v. Gardner, the court found that the law was not narrowly tailored to a significant governmental interest, and therefore failed intermediate scrutiny review.

The New Hampshire law in question was commonly referred to as the “ballot selfie” law, since it prohibited individuals from taking cell phone photographs of themselves with their completed ballots.  The law was a 21st century update of an earlier state law dating back to the late 1800s Continue Reading First Circuit Rejects New Hampshire “Ballot Selfie” Law