High Court refuses to hear appeal of Pennsylvania law banning alcohol ads in student publications

The U.S. Supreme Court on Jan. 16 declined to hear a First Amendment challenge to a Pennsylvania law that prohibits businesses from advertising alcohol in college publications.

Lawyers from the American Civil Liberties Union, fighting on behalf of The Pitt News, the student newspaper at the University of Pittsburgh, argued that the law infringes on the paper’s right to free speech by limiting its revenue potential.

The Pitt News has said it lost more than $20,000 in advertising revenue in one year as a result of the ban, which was passed in 1996 in an effort to discourage underage drinking.

A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit refused to issue a preliminary injunction in June blocking enforcement of the law. The Pitt News appealed to the Supreme Court in November after the Third Circuit refused to rehear the case before the full court.

The three-judge panel ruled that the ban does not violate the newspaper’s First Amendment rights because it is aimed at businesses and advertisers, not newspapers.

The case will now return to the federal district court where it began. The Pitt News will argue for a permanent injunction to block enforcement of Act 199.

Vic Walczak, the executive director of the Greater Pittsburgh ACLU and the attorney representing The Pitt News, said he is optimistic about the upcoming hearing before the district court.

“We’re hoping that the court this time will recognize the First Amendment problems with the law that we think are pretty obvious,” he said.

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