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Justices accept tobacco ads case, pass on Internet access claim

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    NMU         U.S. SUPREME COURT         Newsgathering         Jan 10, 2001    

Justices accept tobacco ads case, pass on Internet access claim

  • The Supreme Court will decide how much state government can regulate advertising in a case involving the placement of tobacco billboards and other advertising.

The U.S. Supreme Court on Jan. 8 decided to hear the appeal of a commercial speech case, but rejected an appeal by a group of college professors who say a state law restricting use of university computers violates the First Amendment.

By accepting the tobacco industry’s appeal, the high court will rule on whether tobacco advertising regulations in Massachusetts are constitutional, and must also decide the extent to which the government can regulate commercial speech.

According to the tobacco industry, the state’s limits on advertising violate its First Amendment rights, and are preempted by the 1965 Federal Cigarette Labeling and Advertising Act that set labeling requirements and banned broadcast advertising. The state regulations, which were adopted in 1999, prohibit signs and billboards advertising tobacco products within 1,000 feet of schools and playgrounds, and require signs inside retail stores to be placed higher than five feet above the floor, out of children’s sight.

The industry claims the regulations ban virtually all outdoor advertising because most populated areas in a city are within 1,000 feet of a school or playground; as a result, the regulations ban advertising of a product legal for adults.

A federal district court judge affirmed the validity of the outdoor advertising regulations but dismissed the regulations controlling advertising inside retail stores. The U.S. Court of Appeals in Boston (1st Cir.) upheld all of the regulations in July 2000.

The high court rejected an appeal by six university professors who challenged a Virginia law they say violates their right to academic freedom because it prohibits all state employees from using state computers to access Web sites containing sexually explicit content. The professors claim the law has hindered their ability to conduct research and assign relevant material to their students.

The federal district court in Alexandria ruled the law unconstitutional, but the decision was overturned by the U.S. Court of Appeals in Richmond (4th Cir.) in June 2000.

(Lorillard Tobacco, Altadis U.S.A. v. Reilly; Urofsky v. Gilmore, Professors’ Counsel: Marjorie Heins, New York) EH

© 2001 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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