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Capital Cities Cable, Inc v. Crisp

    Brief Fact Summary. Oklahoma passed a statute that would require cable television operators in the State to delete out-of-state signals that advertised alcoholic beverages.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. The Twenty-first Amendment does not entirely remove state regulation of alcoholic beverages from the ambit of the Commerce Clause. The State’s interest is measured against any significant interference with the federal objective. The central question is whether the interests implicated by the state regulation are so closely related to the powers reserved by the Twenty-first Amendment that the regulation may prevail, regardless of whether they directly conflict with express federal policies.

    Facts. Oklahoma passed a statute that would require cable television operators in the State to delete all advertisements for alcoholic beverages contained in the out-of-state signals that they retransmitted to their subscribers. Cable operators sued under the First and Fourteenth Amendments and said that the statue was pre-empted by a federal regulatory scheme promoting the widespread development of cable communication. The Court reversed the judgment of the Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit and did not reach the First Amendment question. The State The case went on to discuss the impact of the Twenty-first Amendment on what would otherwise be an invalid statute.

    Issue. Did the Twenty-first Amendment rescue the statute from pre-emption?

    Held. Justice Brennan. No. The judgment of the Court of Appeals is reversed.
    The States enjoy broad power under Section: 2 of the Twenty-first Amendment to regulate the importation and use of intoxicating liquor within their borders. However, prior cases have made it clear that the Amendment does not license the States to ignore their obligations under other provisions of the Constitution. The Twenty-first Amendment does not automatically validate any state regulation involving intoxicating liquors.
    When a State has not attempted to directly to regulate the sale or use of liquor within its borders, a conflicting exercise of federal authority may prevail. The state’s interest in regulating advertising is to discourage consumption of intoxicating liquor, which had increased substantially in the last 20 years despite the ban on advertising such beverages.
    Nonetheless, the state’s argument that it sought to promote temperance with its ban on advertisements rang hollow because Oklahoma did not ban advertising on all fronts. It permitted print advertising for all alcohol beverages and broadcast commercials for beer. The ban was directed only at wine commercials that occasionally appear on out-of-state signals. When the state’s limited interest in regulating this narrow subset of liquor advertising is measured against its regulation’s significant interference with the federal objective of ensuring widespread availability of diverse cable service throughout the Nation, clearly the state’s interest cannot prevail.

    Discussion. In passing regulations pursuant to the Twenty-First Amendment, the state must ensure that the regulations do not interfere with interstate commerce and plausibly further their expressed goal.


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