By Pat Kessler

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — The U.S. Supreme Court struck down Thursday a Minnesota law that bans voters from wearing political attire to the polls.

The state banned political paraphernalia and clothing at voting booths to prevent what it said was “voter intimidation.”

But the high court called the law “unreasonable.”

The high court ruled Minnesota’s voter law banning clothing violates the First Amendment.

Chief Justice John Roberts called the intent of the law “worthy of respect,” but said the way Minnesota enforced it was unreasonable.

In 2010, Minnesota election judges asked Andy Cilek to cover or remove his Tea Party T-shirt on the day he went to vote.

He refused, and was allowed to vote later, but filed a lawsuit.

Eight years later, the U.S. Supreme Court said the election judges were wrong, striking down Minnesota’s law banning political messages at polling places.

“This is one victory in the continuing battle with those in the media, on college campuses, the legislature and elsewhere who are similarly determined to silence speech of those they disagree with,” Cilek said.

Many states have laws regulating political messages at polling places.

But Minnesota bans clothing with a candidate’s name or promoting political issues.

Attorney Erik Kaardahl had argued the law created “unnecessary alienation.”

“Everyone in Minnesota wins, because regardless of what they wear, if it is a political statement, they’re not going to be told by an election official ‘you can’t vote because you are wearing that,’” he said. “The idea of not alienating someone when they are voting is a good one.”

It is unclear what the effect of the court ruling will be.

Secretary of State Steve Simon, a Democrat who is running for re-election, says he will issue new guidelines for election officials.

But he says the number of Minnesotans voting early or absentee is rapidly growing.

“You can wear whatever you want when you are voting from home,” Simon said. “You can wear your pajamas, you can wear your sweatpants or your sticker or T-shirt. It’s not necessary anymore for anyone for any reason to go to a polling place, although you still can.”

The League of Women Voters said Thursday’s ruling could “increase the likelihood that malicious individuals will attempt to intimidate or confuse other voters.”

The law will be on the books for this November’s election.

The Minnesota Legislature doesn’t meet until January.

Pat Kessler

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