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44 Liquormart, Inc. v. Rhode Island

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Constitutional Law Keyed to Sullivan

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Bloomberg Law

Citation. 517 U.S. 484,116 S. Ct. 1495,134 L. Ed. 2d 711,1996 U.S.

Brief Fact Summary. A Rhode Island law banning the advertising of liquor prices except within liquor stores was invalidated by the Supreme Court of the United States (Supreme Court) as a violation of the First Amendment of the United States Constitution (Constitution).

Synopsis of Rule of Law. When a state regulates commercial messages to protect consumers from misleading, deceptive or aggressive sales practices, or requires the disclosure of beneficial consumer information, the purpose of its regulation is consistent with reasons for according less than full constitutional protection to commercial speech and therefore justifies less than strict review. However, when a state entirely prohibits the dissemination of truthful, non-misleading commercial messages, for reasons unrelated to the preservation of a fair bargaining process, there is far less reason to depart from the rigorous review that the First Amendment of the Constitution generally demands.


Facts. A Rhode Island law banned advertisement of the price of alcoholic beverages in any manner except by tags or signs inside liquor stores. The state courts had several times upheld the law, finding that it reasonably served the state goal of promoting temperance. Two high-volume liquor retailers challenged the law under the free speech clause in federal court. The Rhode Island Liquor Stores Association intervened on behalf of the state. The District Court invalidated the law and the Court of Appeals reversed. The Supreme Court unanimously reversed, but it was divided into several camps on the reasoning.

Issue. Whether the Rhode Island law banning the advertising of liquor prices except within a liquor store is constitutional?
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