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44 Liquormart, Inc. v. Rhode Island

    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?

    Held. No. Judgment of the Court of Appeals reversed. Bans that target truthful, non-misleading commercial messages rarely protect consumers from the harms of deception and overreaching. Instead, bans against truthful, non-misleading commercial speech usually rest solely on the offensive assumption that the public will respond “irrationally” to the truth. Therefore, the Rhode Island law banning the advertising of liquor prices except within a liquor store is unconstitutional.
    No. Judgment of the Court of Appeals reversed. The state bears the burden of showing not merely that its regulation will advance its interest, but also that it will do so “to a material degree.” The price advertising ban does not advance the state goal of promoting temperance. The state has not identified what price level would lead to a significant reduction in alcohol consumption. The state can also not prove that its restriction on speech is no more extensive than necessary. Even under the less than strict standard that generally applies in commercial speech cases the state has failed to establish a “reasonable fit” between its abridgment of speech and its temperance goal. Therefore, the Rhode Island law banning the advertising of liquor prices except within a liquor store is unconstitutional.
    No. Judgment of the Court of Appeals reversed. The state’s contention that it may ban price advertising because it can also ban the sale of alcoholic beverages outright is inconsistent with logic and well-settled doctrine. Further, the state’s contention that the price advertising ban should be upheld because it targets a “vice” activity is unpersuasive. Therefore, the Rhode Island law banning the advertising of liquor prices except within a liquor store is unconstitutional.
    Concurrence. We do not have the wherewithal to declare Central Hudson Gas v. Public Service Comm’n wrong.
    All attempts to dissuade legal choices by citizens keeping them ignorant are impermissible.
    This case should be resolved more narrowly.

    Discussion. Here, although the plurality questions the wisdom of the Central Hudson four-part test, the majority opts to keep


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