Washington, DC, June 15, 1999 – The Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) applauds yesterday’s Supreme Court decision in Greater New Orleans Broadcasting Association v. United States, upholding the First Amendment rights of advertisers to run commercials about casino gambling in Louisiana and Mississippi. This decision, building on other recent high court cases protecting so-called commercial speech, deals another blow to the federal government’s paternalistic efforts to shield the public from information regarding so-called legalized vices, such as gambling and alcohol.
Justice John Paul Stevens, writing the opinion of the court, focused particularly on the many inconsistencies in the government’s assertion that gambling advertisements should be restricted for the public good. For example, Congress has sanctioned both gambling and the advertising of gambling by Indian tribes, and allows state run lottery ads as well. The federal government’s policy of restricting gambling ads in certain contexts, according to Justice Stevens, "is so pierced by exemptions and inconsistencies that the government cannot hope to exonerate it."
Unfortunately, the federal government remains slow to respond to the Constitutional tide in favor of free speech, and still suppresses several kinds of truthful product information. CEI is currently suing the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) over its policy banning any direct mention on alcoholic beverage labels and ads that moderate consumption has health benefits. The same inconsistencies noted by Justice Stevens are evident in this case, as the message that moderate drinking reduces cardiovascular risk has been demonstrated in numerous medical studies published by the Department of Health and Human Services, and indeed is included in the most recent edition of the federal government’s Dietary Guidelines for Americans.
"We hope this decision helps remove any lingering doubt that the First Amendment protects all truthful advertising claims, including those pertaining to moderate alcohol consumption and health," says Ben Lieberman, an attorney with CEI.
CEI, a non-profit, non-partisan public policy group founded in 1984, is dedicated to the principles of free enterprise and limited government. For more information, please contact Emily McGee, director of media relations, at 202-331-1010, ext. 209.