By Published on .

The U.S. Supreme Court, in a clear indication of the importance of its 44 Liquormart commercial free-speech decision of May 13, last week set aside a court ruling that allowed Baltimore's ban on outdoor boards for alcohol.

In one of two follow-up cases last week that directly related to the 44 Liquormart decision, the high court issued a short order vacating a 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decision upholding the constitutionality of Baltimore's ban; it ordered the lower court to reconsider the decision in light of the ruling in 44 Liquormart Inc. et al v. Rhode Island et al.

Advertising groups said the result will almost certainly be to overturn Baltimore's ban.


"It's a key signal of the breadth of the Liquormart decision," said Dan Jaffe, senior VP of the Association of National Advertisers. "It will force the lower courts to move away from advertising restrictions."

Hal Shoup, exec VP of the American Association of Advertising Agencies, said the court was telling Baltimore "you can't get away from" the earlier ruling.


In 44 Liquormart, the Supreme Court unanimously overturned a Rhode Island law banning liquor price advertising, calling it an unconstitutional infringement on commercial speech (AA, May 20).

The justices, in several concurring opinions at the time, said government regulation of ad messages for reasons other than fairness or accuracy should be a last resort and that commercial speech has much of the same First Amendment protection as non-commercial speech.

A key part of the ruling reversed the high court's previous decision saying if a state legislature had the authority to ban a product but didn't, the lawmakers could instead choose to ban its advertising. The high court said ad bans should be imposed very rarely and not substitute for other kinds of regulation.

The court also said that even limited advertising restrictions should clearly demonstrate effectiveness in achieving the aim sought.


In the Baltimore case, Anheuser-Busch Cos. challenged the city's outdoor-ad ban as an unconstitutional restriction on free speech. Last week, A-B had the expected response, saying it was "extremely pleased."

"We expect that this action will result in an affirmation of our right to free speech," said Stephen K. Lambright, VP-group executive. "We continue to believe that the Baltimore ordinance is unconstitutional .*.*. Baltimore's ban on outdoor advertising springs from the mistaken belief that government knows what is best and adult consumers should not be assisted in their purchasing decisions by advertising messages."

In the second case, the high court set aside a Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruling supporting that state's ban on liquor price advertising. The ban, which was similar to Rhode Island's, had been challenged by a Philadelphia liquor license-holder as unconstitutional.

Most Popular
In this article: