Supreme Court rules on ad restrictions

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The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday gave broad new protection to commercial speech in a decision advertising groups are calling the most significant for advertising in a decade and one almost certain to affect attempts to regulate tobacco and liquor ads.

The court unanimously struck down a Rhode Island law that banned liquor price advertising, but used the challenging lawsuit, by 44 Liquormart, to spell out what government ad restrictions could and could not be used.

The majority opinion said that only narrowly tailored advertising restrictions are constitutional, and only if regulators can prove their effect. The justices filed three concurring opinions in the 9-0 decision, with the main opinion written by Justice John Paul Stevens.

Advertising lawyers said the decision covers new ground in several areas. For the first time, newer Supreme Court justices revealed their views, and came out strongly against advertising restrictions. Further, the court specifically said it "erred" in its previous case that appeared to allow broad restrictions. In the Posadas case, the Court had ruled that a state ban on casino advertising was constitutional.

"We conclude that a state legislature does not have the broad discretion to suppress truthful, non-misleading information for paternalistic purposes," the court said.

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