ACLU of Virginia Challenges Ban on Alcohol-Related Advertising in College Publications

Affiliate: ACLU of Virginia
June 8, 2006 12:00 am

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RICHMOND, VA – The American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia today filed a federal lawsuit against the State Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control charging that its restrictions on alcohol-related advertisements in college publications are unconstitutional. The lawsuit was filed on behalf of the Collegiate Times and The Cavalier Daily, student-run newspapers at Virginia Tech and the University of Virginia, respectively.

“The state needs to show a strong link between alcohol ads in college newspapers and illegal drinking in order to justify this kind of censorship,” said ACLU of Virginia Executive Director Kent Willis. “Freedom of the press is too important in our society to be restricted on a hunch.”

Generally, Virginia regulations permit the advertising of beer, wine and mixed beverages in all print and electronic media except “college student publications” or publications for under-aged audiences.

The purpose of the regulations appears to be to discourage underage drinking, but there is no evidence of any connection between underage alcohol consumption and alcohol advertisements in college newspapers. Collegiate Times and The Cavalier Daily have a substantial number of readers who are over 21.

In 2004 the University of Pittsburgh’s student paper, Pitt News, challenged similar restrictions on alcohol advertising in Pennsylvania. Pitt News prevailed when a federal appeals court held that the restrictions violated the First Amendment right to freedom of the press because they unjustifiably imposed a burden on college media but not on other media.

Collegiate Times and The Cavalier Daily claim that their revenues are unfairly restricted by the ban on alcohol-related ads, especially since competing non-collegiate media are permitted to run ads for beer, wine and mixed drinks. Both papers depend largely on advertising for their revenues.

The lawsuit, which was filed in U.S. District Court in Richmond, is Educational Media Company at Virginia Tech, Inc., and the Cavalier Daily, Inc. v. Susan R. Swecker, Esther H. Vassar, and Pamela O’Berry Evans, Alcoholic Beverage Control Commissioners, et. al.

ACLU cooperating attorney Frank M. Feibelman, Esq. of Richmond and ACLU of Virginia Legal Director Rebecca K. Glenberg represent the plaintiffs. The complaint is at: www.acluva.org/docket/pleadings/ABC_complaint.pdf

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