Connecticut: Judiciary Committee Bans Political Messages at Hearings (2018)
Lawmakers in Connecticut decided to prohibit members of the public from wearing shirts, buttons, or stickers that express political messages inside the hearing room. This decision drew sharp criticism from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).
David McGuire serves as the executive director of the ACLU of Connecticut. The organization released a statement in which McGuire expressed concern about the committee’s decision. “The Connecticut capitol is supposed to be the people’s house. When people walk into that house to lobby their legislators, they don’t leave their First Amendment rights at the door,” he said.
In February 2018, the Connecticut Judiciary Committee, a committee on which state Senators and Representatives jointly serve, announced during a hearing that political messaging on shirts, buttons, or stickers would not be permitted inside the hearing room. On March 23, 2018, the committee heard testimony regarding House Bills 5540 and 5542, which would ban ghost guns and bump stocks, respectively, in an effort to reduce gun violence in Connecticut. The hearing attracted a large crowd of both supporters and opponents of gun control, including members of Moms Demand Action, Connecticut Against Gun Violence, Newtown Action Alliance, and Connecticut Citizens Defense League. Many members of these organizations wore shirts or buttons that expressed their opinion on gun control. Committee members asked that attendees turn their shirts inside out and refrain from displaying their signs in the room.
The ACLU of Connecticut strongly criticized this decision, noting that “wearing a shirt, button, or sticker at a legislative hearing is a basic component of today’s political discourse. Buttons, shirts, and stickers do not interfere with other people’s abilities to lobby, testify, or otherwise participate in democracy. Buttons, shirts, and stickers with political messages help people to make their views known—something that legislators should encourage, not dismiss.”
In a related but separate matter, the United States Supreme Court heard arguments in Minnesota Voters Alliance v. Mansky on February 28, 2018. This case examined whether or not states may prohibit clothing with ideological messaging inside polling places. According to the petitioner’s brief, there are nine states in addition to Connecticut that have similar laws in place regarding political messaging at voting locations. The Court’s decision is pending.
Political Messages Banned From Judiciary Committee Hearings
Since February 2018, shirts, buttons, and stickers with political messages have not been permitted in Connecticut’s judiciary hearings.
Prepared by Will Haskell ‘18
Uploaded April 9, 2018