Supreme Court slow roasts Minnesota lawyer in T-shirt, voting fight

Arguing a case before the United States Supreme Court is a career pinnacle for many lawyers. But you have to know that when you stand in front of the nine justices, you’re going to get a little dinged up.

That’s especially true when the big issues swirl around voting law and novelty T-shirts.

So, maybe a little sympathy is in order for Daniel Rogan, the senior attorney in the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office, who stood before the justices Wednesday to defend Minnesota’s law barring voters from wearing apparel or buttons that bear a “political” message when they show up to vote.

In 2010, several groups sued after learning that some county election officials would not allow voters to wear buttons that read, “Please I.D. me,” a reference to legislation that would have required voters to show identification at the polls. The debate boiled down to: Are such buttons, or T-shirts that say, “Don’t tread on me,” inherently political?

The case found its way to Washington Wednesday, where there were many incredulous questions asked about T-shirts.

Here’s a snippet from the transcript where the justices take Rogan out for a few laps on the question of acceptable vs. unacceptable T-shirts:

JUSTICE ALITO: Okay. How about an NRA shirt?

MR. ROGAN: An NRA shirt? Today, in Minnesota, no, it would not, Your Honor. I think that that’s a clear indication — and I think what you’re getting at, Your Honor —

JUSTICE ALITO: How about a shirt with the text of the Second Amendment?

MR. ROGAN: Your Honor, I — I – I think that that could be viewed as political, that that — that would be — that would be -­-

JUSTICE ALITO: How about the First Amendment?


MR. ROGAN: No, Your Honor, I don’t -­ I don’t think the First Amendment. And, Your Honor, I –­

CHIEF JUSTICE ROBERTS: No — no what, that it would be covered or wouldn’t be allowed?

MR. ROGAN: It would be allowed.


MR. ROGAN: It would be. And — and I think the — I understand the — the idea, and I’ve — I’ve — there are obviously a lot of examples that — that have been bandied about here –­

JUSTICE ALITO: Yeah, well, this is the problem. How about a Colin Kaepernick jersey?

I’m not a great Supreme Court watcher, but when you see “(laughter)” in the transcript during your arguments, it probably is not a good thing.

Reporting on the oral arguments Wednesday, a Reuters correspondent wrote that from the justices’ questions, it was unclear how they will eventually rule.