PHOENIX – A federal judge has issued an emergency order stating that Maricopa County cannot ban clothing worn by voters on Election Day that refers to the phrase “tea party,” unless there’s also a message on the clothing that attempts to influence how other voters might cast their ballots.
At the request of the Goldwater Institute, U.S. District Judge James A. Teilborg issued a temporary restraining order Monday afternoon to stop poll workers from telling voters to hide or remove any clothing that refers in some fashion to a “tea party.” Poll workers also are not allowed to record the names of voters wearing “tea party” clothing for later investigation, the judge’s order says.
“This is a great day for liberty,” said Diane Cohen, the Goldwater Institute’s lead attorney on the case. “The court recognized that Maricopa County’s policy went far beyond what’s required to protect anyone from the threat of intimidation or coercion while voting.”
Judge Teilborg ruled Maricopa County election officials would violate the First Amendment rights of voters by enforcing a universal ban of any mention of “tea party” on a T-shirt or other clothing at polling places. Judge Teilborg noted Maricopa County didn’t issue a similar, universal ban for clothing associated with other groups active in election politics including labor unions and trade groups. In his ruling, the judge wrote, ““The Constitution abhors the misuse of discretion as a license for arbitrary procedure.”
Judge Teilborg previously issued a similar order for Coconino County so members of the Flagstaff Tea Party could wear their T-shirts while voting. But Maricopa County Recorder Helen Purcell and county Elections Director Karen Osborne announced after this ruling that no clothing referring to tea parties would be allowed during voting on Tuesday.
“Some election officials seem to have singled out tea party groups while ignoring others who also exercise their right to speak out during elections,” said Clint Bolick, the Goldwater Institute’s litigation director. “But the federal court has twice put all Arizona officials on notice that such discrimination at polling places is not acceptable under the U.S. Constitution.”
The Goldwater Institute Scharf-Norton Center for Constitutional Litigation represents Mark Reed, who intends to vote Tuesday while wearing a T-shirt that says “Tea Party: Principles Not Politicians” and includes a “Don’t Tread on Me” logo.
Read more about this and other Goldwater lawsuits to protect individual rights and keep government within its constitutional limits at www.goldwaterinstitute.org/litigation. The Goldwater Institute is an independent government watchdog supported by people who are committed to expanding free enterprise and liberty.