HIGH COURT RULING FAVORS GROWER ADS: MANDATORY CONTRIBUTIONS DON'T IMPINGE ON MEMBERS' FREE SPEECH

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The U.S. Supreme Court has removed the threat to $625 million in advertising by grower co-ops, ruling in a 5-4 decision that the requirement that growers contribute for ads doesn't violate their First Amendment rights.

The decision overturned a 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decision.

"We are ecstatic," said Lon Hatamiya, administrator of agricultural marketing services for the U.S. Department of Agriculture. "It affirmed continuance of these programs. It couldn't have been more strongly worded in our favor."

CALIF. CONTROVERSY

The case resulted from California fruit grower Wileman Brothers & Elliott's 1988 refusal to pay its share of industry ad costs due under a USDA marketing order. Wileman contended it was being forced to advertise against its will.

The high court majority ruled the marketing orders are economic regulations and thus don't qualify for First Amendment protection. The majority said that because the dollars support a generic ad campaign for California peaches and plums, not a political position, they can't be viewed as preventing anybody's right to speak freely.

However, four justices including Chief Justice Wil-liam Rehnquist used their dissent to suggest any government attempt to regulate what people can say violates commercial free speech rights.

The court decision directly affects only a small $3 million ad campaign for California fruit growers, but Mr. Hatamiya said that all 17 marketing orders worth $25 million in advertising would have been affected, as would have the 12 promotional orders put together for meat, milk and other industries that spend $600 million annually.

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