Three 3Ls Helped Prep SCOTUS Case on Polling Place Restrictions
When the U.S. Supreme Court issues its eagerly anticipated ruling clarifying the limits of imposing political-speech restrictions at polling places, the opinion will be of more than just academic interest to three 3Ls at the Law School.
While clerking in the Civil Division of the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office, Amy Hang, Theo Heckel, and Jordan Rude had the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to help research and draft the respondent’s brief in Minnesota Voters Alliance v. Mansky. The trio worked directly with the lawyers handling the case, senior assistant Hennepin County attorney Dan Rogan, who argued the case before the U.S. Supreme Court, and assistant Hennepin County attorney Beth Stack ’07.
The case, a challenge to a 105-year-old Minnesota law prohibiting the wearing of political badges, buttons and other “insignia” in polling places, has been working its way through the courts for seven and a half years. The original lawsuit was brought by a man who walked into a Hennepin County polling place in November 2010 wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with a Tea Party logo along with a button that said, “Please I.D. Me.” A poll worker initially stopped him, questioned his apparel choice, and asked him to cover the T-shirt and button. He refused, but was allowed to vote anyway. He nonetheless filed a lawsuit challenging the state statute as an unconstitutional violation of his free-speech rights.
In February 2017, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit upheld the law (and an earlier ruling by a U.S. District Court judge), concluding the application of the statute was reasonable and consistent with the state’s legitimate interest in preserving polling place decorum and neutrality.
On the Fast Track
On Nov. 13, 2017, the U.S. Supreme Court granted cert, scheduling oral arguments for Feb. 28, 2018.
“When the U.S. Supreme Court granted review, we mobilized the law clerks to help us with on our brief,” Stack said. “I always joke that it was kind of a rocket docket for a case that had taken years. Cert was granted in mid-November, just before Thanksgiving, and the brief was due in early February, less than three months later.”
Stack, who is also an adjunct professor of legal writing at the Law School, said that despite exams, holiday plans, and a school break, Hang, Heckel, and Rude all chipped in substantial time doing legwork for the brief. All three had some of the discrete issues they researched and the language that they drafted incorporated into the final brief, she added.
“I call out [Rude] in particular because we wound up filing a brief with an appendix attached, and the appendix was all his work product,” Stack said. “It’s a review of the speech regulations in polling places in all 50 states plus the District of Columbia. He did a tremendous job to collect all that information and categorize it.”
Rude said that observing, and participating in, the process of researching and writing a SCOTUS brief “was an incredibly unique experience.”
According to Stack, each of the clerks developed individual specialty areas. “For example, Theo Heckel was our resident historian,” she said. “He spent a lot of time over at the State Law Library doing his research. The statute that was challenged was passed in 1913. Back then, they used to publish large chunks of the legislative record in the newspaper, so he was reading 100-year-old newspapers trying to chart the statute’s progress.”
Heckel noted while his role was initially limited to the legislative history, it quickly expanded to include case law and statutory research. “The amount of preparation was extreme, as the attorneys asked us to do research on increasingly nuanced issues. However, the team’s hard work paid off,” he said.
Day of the Argument
All three of the law clerks made the trek to Washington, D.C. to attend the oral arguments on Feb. 28. Not yet lawyers, they had to stand in line with members of the public to get a seat in the courtroom.
As Stack sat at counsel’s table waiting for the case to start, she distinctly recalls looking back over her shoulder and seeing her husband, Rogan’s wife, and the three law clerks all seated in the gallery. “It was really nice to see all of those friendly faces,” she said.
Heckel enjoyed the opportunity to watch a case that he helped prep be argued. “Having worked on the case, I was aware of the complexities and nuances of both parties’ arguments, so it was rewarding to see [Rogan] masterfully articulate our position and oppose the petitioner’s,” he said. “As I left the courtroom, I felt proud and grateful to have been a member of such a talented team. I would not have had this opportunity were it not for the Public Interest Residency Program.”
Rude said that it was “almost surreal” to hear Supreme Court justices asking questions about issues that he and others on the team had researched and discussed.
Hang said her involvement with the case was an amazing experience that she will cherish for the rest of her legal career and life. “I recognize how rare and how unique it was to have had a SCOTUS experience at all and so early on in my legal career,” she observed. “I distinctively remember sitting in the Supreme Court courtroom and thinking to myself—this is why I went to law school and this is why what lawyers do matters.”
Stack, who herself clerked in the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office while she was a law student, gave high marks to the three 3Ls. “They all get rave reviews from me.,” she said. “They do excellent work and are just a pleasure to work with. They are all launching into the world, so I can’t wait to see where they land and what they do, but I really hate to lose these 3Ls.”
—By Mark A. Cohen