RICHMOND, Va. — The student newspapers at two of Virginia’s biggest universities can run advertisements for alcohol despite a ban the state says is intended to curb illegal underage drinking, a federal appeals court ruled Wednesday.
A panel of the 4th U.S. District Court of Appeals in Richmond concluded that the Virginia Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission ban on alcohol advertising in college newspapers is unconstitutional as it applies to The Cavalier Daily at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville and the Collegiate Times at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg. The regulation prohibits ban ads for beer, wine and mixed drinks in student-run publications unless they’re in the context of an ad for a restaurant.
In a separate legal challenge brought by the newspapers, the court ruled the regulation was not unconstitutional on its face but in Wednesday’s ruling, the court said the ban violated their First Amendment rights because it “prohibits large numbers of adults who are 21 years of age or older from receiving truthful information about a product that they are legally allowed to consume.”
The court noted that about 60 percent of the Collegiate Times’ readers are 21 or older and The Cavalier Daily reaches an audience in which nearly 64 percent are 21 or older.
The 2-1 ruling Wednesday reversed a lower court decision that upheld the ban that concluded the regulation was “appropriately tailored to achieve its objective of reducing abusive college drinking.”
The appeals court also wrote that the regulation “attempts to keep would-be drinkers in the dark based on what the ABC perceives to be their own good.”
“There’s no evidence at all that this kind of regulation is effective at curbing underage drinking or binge drinking on college campuses,” said the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia Legal Director Rebecca Glenberg, who represented the newspapers. “It puts college newspapers at a competitive disadvantage to other local newspapers, which are allowed to run this kind of advertising.”
The Virginia Attorney General’s office said no decision has been made on whether to appeal the decision and the office will review its options with officials from ABC.
“Unless our analysis shows that a Virginia regulation is unconstitutional, this office has a duty to defend it,” said spokesman Brian Gottstein.
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