(CN) – Virginia’s alcohol regulatory board can ban alcohol ads in student publications, a split 4th Circuit panel ruled, rejecting the First Amendment claims of two college newspapers.
Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University’s student-run newspaper, The Collegiate Times, and the University of Virginia’s The Cavalier Daily said they lost about $30,000 a year in ad revenue based on the ban. They claimed the restriction on alcohol ads amounted to an unconstitutional ban on commercial speech.
The district court agreed and permanently barred Virginia’s Alcoholic Beverage Control Board from enforcing the ban.
But the appeals court in Richmond, Va., reversed. The restriction “is narrowly tailored to serve the board’s interest of establishing a comprehensive scheme attacking the problem of underage and dangerous drinking by college students,” Judge Dennis Shedd wrote for the 2-1 panel.
The majority noted that the ban is not a “complete ban on alcohol advertising,” as it allows restaurants to advertise drink specials. And the restriction only applies to “college student publications,” or campus publications targeted at students under 21, the ruling states.
The newspapers argued that the ban isn’t the least restrictive way to fight underage and abusive drinking, but the court’s majority countered that the ban doesn’t have to be the best method.
“The board has shown that [the ban] is an integral, reasonable fit to serve its interests,” the panel concluded.
In a dissenting opinion, U.S. District Judge Norman Moon, who participated in the panel decision, argued that the case could be resolved on the narrower ground that the ban doesn’t apply to either newspaper, because most of their readers are over 21.
On the constitutional merits, Moon said he would have strike down the ban as too broad.