Judge Upholds Virginia Ban on Alcohol Ads in Student Publications; Newspapers Appeal

By October 12, 2012

Last month, Judge Hannah Lauck of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia issued an unfortunate opinion (PDF) in Educational Media Company at Virginia Tech v. Swecker, a case challenging the constitutionality of a Virginia regulation that bans advertisements for alcohol in college student publications. On September 27, 2012, that ruling was appealed to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit.

The lawsuit began in 2006 when the ACLU of Virginia sued on behalf of two student newspapers (The Collegiate Times from Virginia Tech and The Cavalier Daily from the University of Virginia), leading to a March 2008 first round victory (PDF) for the student newspapers when Judge Lauck held that the scheme violated the First Amendment. The decision was appealed to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, which in a divided 2 to 1 opinion reversed Judge Lauck’s opinion and remanded the case for further proceedings. We covered the Fourth Circuit’s disappointing decision (PDF) and why we found its reasoning so unconvincing here in August 2010. The plaintiffs sought a writ of certiorari from the Supreme Court of the United States, but it was denied.

With the ball back in Judge Lauck’s court, so to speak, she issued her new opinion (PDF) on September 7, 2012. In it she concluded that the regulation did not run afoul of the First Amendment as applied to the two student newspapers and that the scheme did not unconstitutionally discriminate against a narrow segment of the media (i.e., student newspapers). 

As disappointed as we are with this ruling, we’re happy to report that the case is not over and this decision was again appealed to the Fourth Circuit. We remain deeply skeptical of the constitutionality of the advertising ban and wish the appellants luck in their appeal.

Whatever the outcome, you can rest assured that FIRE will keep you posted. In the meantime, we can all sleep well knowing that student demand for alcohol on college campuses will obviously remain in check as the ban on its advertisement in The Collegiate Times and the The Cavalier Daily stays in place pending appeal!