Lower court had ruled that ban on alcohol ads violates First Amendment.Richmond, VA – The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled today that the Virginia Alcoholic Beverage Control Board’s restrictions on alcohol-related advertising in college publications are permissible. In a divided 2-1 vote, the panel reversed a lower court decision holding that the prohibition on the advertising of beer, wine, and mixed drinks in college student publications (unless in the context of an ad for a dining establishment) violates the free press clause of First Amendment.
In 2008, the U.S. District Court in Richmond struck down the ABC regulation, finding no evidence that the advertising ban had any effect on underage drinking and that there were other legitimate ways the state could reduce student drinking-- including educational programs, increased taxation on alcohol, and counter-advertising--without infringing on freedom of the press.
The lower court relied on expert witnesses and a similar case in Pennsylvania in which the University of Pittsburgh’s student paper, Pitt News, challenged state restrictions on alcohol advertising. In that case the Third Circuit Court of Appeals held that the restrictions violated the First Amendment right to freedom of the press because they unjustifiably imposed a burden on media associated with universities and colleges that was not imposed on other media. That decision was written by then judge Samuel A. Alito, now a U.S. Supreme Court justice.
But the Fourth Circuit concluded that there was a “common sense” link between alcohol advertising bans in college papers and a decrease in demand for alcohol by college students.
“The effect of this regulation that the circuit court upheld was to substantially diminish the student newspaper’s revenue, which is almost totally based on advertising,” said ACLU of Virginia Legal Director Rebecca Glenberg. “Perhaps more importantly, it interferes with the editorial decision making of student editors and journalists.”
“There are better ways for the state to address those problems without infringing on the free speech rights of newspapers and students,” added Glenberg.
Plaintiffs in the lawsuit are Educational Media Company at Virginia Tech, the owner of Virginia Tech’s Collegiate Times, and the University of Virginia’s Cavalier Daily. The case is Educational Media Company at Virginia Tech v. Swecker. ACLU of Virginia Legal Director Rebecca K. Glenberg and ACLU cooperating attorney Frank Feibelman of Richmond represent the plaintiffs.
Contacts: Kent Willis, Executive Director, 804/644-8022