A number of Texas election officials are being sued after an elections worker threatened a voter with arrest for wearing a pro-Trump Make America Great Again hat.
The case was brought by the Pacific Legal Foundation on behalf of Jillian Ostrewich and Anthony Ortiz, who each claim their free speech was suppressed by elections officials.
Named in the suit are Dallas County’s Toni Pippins-Poole and Harris County Clerk Diane Trautman.
Ostrewich was told she was not allowed to wear a shirt stating “Houston Fire Fighters” while she voted, and Ortiz was threatened with arrest for wearing his hat.
Pacific Legal said: “If all of this sounds familiar, it is because PLF argued a similar case in front of the Supreme Court of the United States exactly one year ago today. In Minnesota Voters Alliance v. Mansky, the Supreme Court invalidated a Minnesota law that failed to provide objective workable standards for what speech may come in the polling place and what must stay out.”
The organization said the government attorney “famously stated that a T-shirt containing the text of the First Amendment would be allowed at the polling place, while a shirt contained the text of the Second Amendment would be banned.”
The problem in Texas, the complaint contends, is the state’s “arbitrary and erratic enforcement.”
PLF said election officials “in the various counties are allowed to make on-the-spot judgments about which messages can be allowed in the polling places and which messages must be covered up.”
“Unsurprisingly, election officials wielding this vast power have made headlines in each of the past three election cycles: harassing voters for voting in everything from an Alaska souvenir T-shirt to T-shirts that said ‘Vote the Bible’ or ‘Deplorables,'” PLF said.
“The right to political expression is fundamental, and a law that bans such expression on Election Day makes no more sense than a law that bans people from saying ‘Merry Christmas’ on December 25. Voters shouldn’t be prosecuted for wearing a T-shirt – especially so when enforcement of the law is based on an election official’s whims.”
The complaint was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas, Houston Division.
The complaint explains the law states: “A person commits an offense if, during the voting period and within 100 feet of an outside door through which a voter may enter the building in which a polling place is located the person: electioneers for or against any candidate, measure, or political party.”
The law bans anything that could be considered “a badge, insignia, emblem, or other similar communicative device relating to a candidate, measure, or political party.”
However, the complaint asserts, the law infringe actions “protected by the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment” and “are not narrowly tailored to any compelling governmental interest.”
The case also alleges violations of the 14th Amendment, because the laws are so vague.
“Voters may be arrested if they refuse to remove apparel that an election worker deems to violate [the Texas ban]. An election worker threatened Mr. Ortiz with arrest if Mr. Ortiz did not take off his ‘Make American Great Again’ hat,” PLF said.
The case seeks a declaration the state law is unconstitutional and an order halting Texas officials from enforcing it. It asks for nominal damages of $1 along with attorneys’ fees and costs.