New Lawsuit Aims to Protect Right to Wear "Tea Party" T-shirt While Voting

Posted on September 20, 2010 | Type: Press Release
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PHOENIX – Today, the Goldwater Institute filed a constitutional rights lawsuit against Coconino County to defend a Flagstaff woman’s freedom to wear her T-shirt for a local tea party group when she votes.

When Diane Wickberg went to vote in the special statewide election on May 18, 2010, she was wearing the same T-shirt she wears every Tuesday. The white shirt includes the logos “We the People” and “Flagstaff Tea Party – Reclaiming our Constitution Now.”

The Flagstaff Tea Party meets on Tuesday each week, and Mrs. Wickberg wears this T-shirt as an active member. She was shocked when a poll worker told her to remove the shirt or turn it inside out before voting. The election worker claimed the T-shirt might influence or threaten other voters. Under state law, electioneering inside a polling place is a misdemeanor crime.

But Mrs. Wickberg didn’t understand. The T-shirt didn’t suggest voting for or against anything, and the Flagstaff Tea Party hadn’t taken a stand on the single issue on the May 18 ballot.

In the end, Mrs. Wickberg was allowed to vote. But then she was stopped again when she went to vote in the Aug. 24 state primary. This time, Mrs. Wickberg had to cover her T-shirt with a sweater and hide her association with the Flagstaff Tea Party, even though it hadn’t endorsed any candidates.

Mrs. Wickberg intends to vote once more in the Nov. 2 general election. The Goldwater Institute filed a federal civil rights lawsuit today against Coconino County and County Recorder Candace D. Owens to protect Mrs. Wickberg constitutional right to wear her tea party T-shirt when she goes to her polling place.

“The day has arrived when someone might be arrested for supporting the U.S. Constitution with a T-shirt,” said Clint Bolick, director of the Goldwater Institute’s Scharf-Norton Center for Constitutional Litigation. “Fortunately, Congress decided long ago that every American should be able to ask a federal judge to intervene when local government officials trample on civil rights.”

The lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court in Phoenix and assigned to the Hon. James A. Teilborg. Under federal law, any individual can sue local government officials who use the power of their office to wrongly interfere with that person’s constitutional liberties. Mr. Bolick said this case is an example of a government official acting on her personal opinion instead of objective standards to enforce the law and interfere with someone’s freedom of speech.

“There are labor unions, such as those for firefighters and public-school teachers, that aggressively campaign for or against candidates and issues during some elections,” said Diane Cohen, the lead attorney in this lawsuit for the Goldwater Institute. “But Coconino County doesn’t automatically ban clothing with logos for every labor union at every election. Members of the Flagstaff Tea Party have a constitutional right to the same treatment.”

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.

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