Today, a federal appeals court blocked a San Francisco law mandating health warning labels on ads for soda and other sugary drinks, saying the law violates speech protected by the First Amendment. The court issued a preliminary injunction that stops the ordinance from taking effect, at least for now. CEI experts praised the ruling, criticizing both the policy of labeling mandates and the First Amendment implications of accepting forced speech when applied only to specific groups.
“This case is a sweet victory for the First Amendment, but there are more problems with these kinds of regulations than just what the Ninth Circuit identified,” said Devin Watkins, a CEI attorney.
Watkins pointed to an earlier Supreme Court ruling rejecting the argument that it’s constitutionally okay to impose a speech requirement if it is foisted on only a certain type of product or industry.
“Almost all products contain some sugars, and yet San Francisco decided to only target some of those products to imply they are unusually unsafe, without cause,” Watkins explained. “These kinds of mandatory speech requirements should only be issued if they satisfy strict scrutiny, which this does not.”
“This victory is limited and possibly temporary,” said Michelle Minton, a CEI senior fellow specializing in consumer policy. “Rather than throwing out the label for being unscientific, biased, or an abridgement of free speech, the court merely thinks the size of the warning label is too big. Presumably, a smaller warning could still be slapped onto any product (right next to the Prop 65 cancer warnings on everything in California) at the whim of the Board of Supervisors. Residents should decide now if government-forced, politically-driven food labeling is the kind of future they want.”