A federal court struck down two Texas laws forcing voters to surrender their freedom of expression when they vote. Those laws criminalized “electioneering” in or near a polling place, which the state defined as wearing apparel related to any past, present, or future candidate, political party, or ballot measure. The laws gave thousands of election workers across the state unbridled discretion to confront any voter wearing a t-shirt, hat, or button that they deemed “electioneering.”
“This is an important win for Texans’ free speech rights,” said PLF attorney Wen Fa. “The First Amendment protects an individual’s right to express beliefs, regardless of whether others agree with those beliefs. An individual’s right to self-expression does not end at the polling place.”
In October 2018, an election judge gave Jillian Ostrewich an ultimatum: Turn her “Houston Firefighters” shirt inside out or stay out of the polling place. Believing that the Texas voting laws violated her constitutional rights, Ostrewich filed a lawsuit challenging the state’s polling-place dress code.
“I’m pleased with the Court’s opinion, which strengthens the free speech rights of voters in Texas.” said Ostrewich. “It is just a T-shirt. The government should have no business dictating what I wear when I go to vote.”
The court upheld a narrower statute, intended to apply to poll worker name badges, that prohibits badges or insignia related to candidates, parties, and measures on the ballot. The unconstitutional statutes contained no such limitation, giving election workers discretion to censor any voter apparel they deemed electioneering.
PLF represents Jillian Ostrewich free of charge in Ostrewich v. Hudspeth.