44 Liquormart, Inc. v. Rhode Island, 517 U.S. 484; 116 S. Ct. 1495; 134 L. Ed. 2d 711 (1996)

44 Liquormart, Inc. v. Rhode Island, 517 U.S. 484; 116 S. Ct. 1495; 134 L. Ed. 2d 711 (1996)

Facts—Rhode Island has strict laws prohibiting the advertising of the prices of alcoholic products within the state. 44 Liquormart, Inc. (joined by Peoples Super Liquor Stores, Inc.), a retailer of alcoholic beverages, was fined for advertisements that, while not specifically mentioning the prices of its alcoholic beverages, implied that they were low. A U.S. District Court ruled that Rhode Island’s regulations of price advertising violated the First Amendment in that they did not advance the state’s interest in reducing alcohol consumption and were more extensive than necessary. The U.S. First Circuit Court of Appeals reversed this judgment.

Questions—(a) Did Rhode Island’s limitations on advertising of the price of alcohol violate the First and Fourteenth Amendments’ protections for freedom of speech? (b) Are the regulations protected by the Twenty-first Amendment?

Decisions—(a) Yes; (b) No.

ReasonsJ. Stevens (9–0). Supreme Court decisions in Bigelow v. Virginia, 421 U.S. 809 (1975) and Virginia Bd. of Pharmacy v. Virginia Citizens Consumer Council, Inc., 425 U.S. 748 (1976) established “the public’s interest in receiving accurate commercial information.” Bans against such information are based “on the offensive assumption that the public will respond ‘irrationally’ to the truth.” Although the state has a legitimate interest in promoting temperance, it did not show that the advertising ban will significantly advance this interest or that other less drastic means could not be used instead. The Court’s decision in Posadas de Puerto Rico Associates v. Tourism Co. of P.R., 478 U.S. 328 (1986), permitting the banning of information in Puerto Rico of a casino located there, marked a “sharp break from our prior precedent,” that was no longer valid and that incorrectly assumed that regulation of speech was less drastic than regulation of conduct. Although the Twenty-first Amendment granted states increased authority over commerce in alcohol, it was not designed to limit any other constitutional rights, including freedom of speech.

J. Scalia, J. Thomas, and J. O’Connor all filed concurring opinions.

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