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The supreme court, wisely-and unanimously-has dismissed as unconstitutional a federal ban on TV and radio ads for legal gambling at privately owned casinos. It is a good ruling-a clear reminder to public officials that bans on truthful ads should be a measure of last resort, not a politically convenient or poorly thought out way to "solve" concerns over legal products.

Unfortunately, the court in this case deferred reexamining the "limited" First Amendment protection it has extended to truthful ads. That may await a future showdown over government efforts to curb tobacco products advertising (and maybe alcoholic-beverage advertising as well). Then we will see how demanding the court will be in enforcing the so-called Central Hudson test.

Drafted in a 1980 case bearing that name, Central Hudson lays out how government can justify bans on truthful ads for legal products or services: It must demonstrate the regulation "directly advances" a "substantial government interest" and is "not more extensive than necessary to serve that interest." In its casino ad ruling, eight members of the court pushed aside proposals that the court close the door more tightly on future ad bans by dumping the Central Hudson formula. The ninth, Justice Clarence Thomas, argued Central Hudson should have had no bearing on the gambling case, where he said the government's asserted interest was to keep "legal users of a product or service ignorant in order to manipulate their choices in the marketplace."

The test for Central Hudson is this: If it is not applied with rigor, a barrier to unjustified ad censorship is no barrier. And "limited" First Amendment

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