PRESS RELEASE: Appeals Court Urged to Uphold Ban on Discriminatory Alcohol Advertising Regulations

Contact: Frank D. LoMonte, or 703.807.1904

The Student Press Law Center (“SPLC”), a national non-profitadvocacy group devoted to defending student journalists’ First Amendmentrights, is urging a federal appeals court to uphold a lower court’sdecision striking down selective Virginia regulations that restrict the wordscollege student newspapers can use in advertisements for alcohol and bars.

The SPLC filed a friend-of-the-court (“amicus”) brief onTuesday, May 19, with the Fourth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeal in Richmond,Virginia, in the case of Educational Media Company at Virginia Tech, Inc. v.Swecker. The SPLC’s brief supports a case initially brought by theAmerican Civil Liberties Union of Virginia on behalf of the University ofVirginia’s The Cavalier Daily and Virginia Tech’s CollegiateTimes.

In the brief, SPLC attorneys argue that Virginia’s alcoholic beverageregulations place an unfair financial burden on the student media, because theyprohibit college student publications from accepting paid advertising foralcoholic beverages or bars, and allow only very limited references to alcohol(approved words such as “beer,” “wine,” and”cocktails”) in advertisements for restaurants.

In a March 31, 2008, order, U.S. Magistrate Judge M. Hannah Lauck foundthat the First Amendment prohibited enforcing the college media regulation, aswell as a broader Virginia regulation — applicable to all media — that outlaws ads describing liquor drinks, except for eight pre-approved terms,including “Exotic Drinks” and “Polynesian Drinks.”

Judge Lauck ruled that the regulations were not sufficiently tailored to promotea reduction in underage drinking — the State’s justification for theregulations — and trampled on too much First Amendment speech. The Stateof Virginia then appealed to the Fourth Circuit.

In its legal brief to the Fourth Circuit, the SPLC points out: “Thereis no evidence that restricting some (but not all) alcohol advertisements incollege student publications while permitting all other forms of media reachingthis same audience to publish these promotions has any impact on underage orabusive drinking by college students.”

The SPLC’s brief was joined by College Newspaper Business andAdvertising Managers (“CNBAM”), a national organization of collegenewspaper business staffs that represents more than 150 student newspapers witha circulation of over 1.4 million and more than $50 million in annual ad sales. The brief was prepared and filed by volunteer legal counsel from the Washington,D.C., office of Jenner & Block LLP. The legal team included partnerKatherine A. Fallow and associates Carrie F. Apfel and Garrett A. Levin. Founded in 1914, Jenner & Block has approximately 470 attorneys located inChicago, Los Angeles, New York and Washington, D.C., and is known for its active pro-bono litigation practice.

“Especially in the current economy, it is absolutely essential thatstudent publications be able to generate ad revenue from any legalsource,” said Frank D. LoMonte, an attorney and Executive Director of theStudent Press Law Center. “The ability to build a diverse base ofadvertising revenue is critical to student journalists’ ability toestablish financial independence from their schools, and student journalismworks best when the journalists have the insulation of financialautonomy.”

“It is hardly a secret to college students that alcoholic beveragesexist,” LoMonte said. “The state itself admits that unsafe drinkinghas done nothing but escalate while these ad regulations have been in place. The regulations have no effect at all, except for their negative effect onstudent journalism.”

LoMonte said the SPLC and CNBAM felt it was important to intercede insupport of the Cavalier Daily and Collegiate Times, because in itsappeal, the State of Virginia tries a “divide and conquer” tactic byurging the Fourth Circuit to limit its ruling to only those two newspapers,leaving the estimated 35 other college student newspapers in the state each tobring their own lawsuits. “We want the Court of Appeals to understand, asJudge Lauck understood, that you cannot put the burden on small, poorly fundedpublications to sue the State of Virginia over and over to establish the samelegal point. The trial court correctly found that the regulations areunconstitutional, period, and the Fourth Circuit should leave JudgeLauck’s thorough and careful opinion undisturbed,” LoMontesaid.

Since 1974, the Student Press Law Center has been devoted to educating highschool and college journalists about the rights and responsibilities embodied inthe First Amendment, and supporting the student news media in covering importantissues free from censorship. The Center provides free information andeducational materials for student journalists and their teachers on a widevariety of legal topics.