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44 Liquormart, Inc. v. Rhode Island

    Brief Fact Summary. The state prohibited all advertisements of alcohol prices by stores and the media.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. Restriction of commercial speech must advance a state interest to a “material degree” and be no more restrictive than necessary.

    Facts. Rhode Island (Respondent) passed legislation prohibiting all advertisements of the price of alcohol beverages. Both the retailers and the media were banned from communicating this information. This ban applied to all stores located outside the state that might advertise within the state. The state defended its legislation when it stated that it would lead to lower prices, and lower prices would lead to increased consumption.

    Issue. Can a state constitutionally prohibit the advertising of alcohol prices?

    Held. No. All nine justices agreed that the statute was invalid, however, all differed in their rationale. The state statute prohibiting the advertisements is an invalid restriction of commercial speech.
    Concurrence.
    Justice Thomas found the balancing of state and individual interests to be inappropriate in this situation because the cited state interest is illegitimate.
    Justice O’Connor agreed with the judgment, but applies the Central Hudson test. A lawful activity that is not misleading may not be restricted unless there is a substantial government interest being advanced. This ban on advertisements is more extensive than necessary and overly broad.

    Discussion. There is a valid state interest in preventing untruthful, misleading information from being put upon the unsuspecting public. But this statute is a complete bar on all commercial speech. There is no situation that would justify this statute.


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