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

PENNSLYVANNIA — The U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday declined to heara First Amendment challenge to a Pennsylvania law that prohibits businessesfrom advertising alcohol in college publications.

Lawyers from the American Civil Liberties Union, fighting on behalfof 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 limitingits revenue potential.

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

A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuitrefused to issue a preliminary injunction in June blocking enforcementof the law. The Pitt News appealed to the Supreme Court in Novemberafter 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’sFirst 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.ThePitt News will argue for a permanent injunction to block enforcementof Act 199.

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

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

Case Citation: Pitt News v. Fisher, 215 F.3d 354, (3rdCir. 2000) cert denied, 2001 U.S. LEXIS 712 (U.S. Jan. 16, 2001).

The June ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit isavailable online at: http://vls.law.vill.edu/locator/3d/Jun2000/993545.txt

Previous Stories:

Studentsask High Court to overturn state ban on alcohol advertising in collegepublications (Winter 2000-01 Report)

Court upholdsstate ban on alcohol advertising in college newspapers (Fall 2000 Report)