ROBERT E. RUBIN, SECRETARY OF THE TREASURY v. COORS BREWING COMPANY | The Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression

Case Overview

Legal Principle at Issue

Whether the Federal Alcohol Administration Act may constitutionally prohibit brewers from displaying the alcohol content of their beer on the beer's label.

Action

Affirmed (includes modified). Petitioning party did not receive a favorable disposition.

Facts/Syllabus

The Federal Alcohol Administration Act prohibits beer labels from displaying alcohol content. The Coors Brewing Co. claimed that it had a First Amendment right to disseminate the alcohol content of its products. Although the proffered purpose of the legislation was to prevent "strength wars," i.e., marketplace competition based on the potency of different beers, other regulation of alcoholic beverages allows brewers to advertise alcohol content and requires wine and hard liquor manufacturers to display such information.

In Virginia State Bd. of Pharmacy v. Virginia Citizens Consumer Council, 425 U.S. 748 (1976), the U.S. Supreme Court for the first time recognized that commercial speech speech that concerns only commercial or economic activity is entitled to some First Amendment protection. The government therefore may regulate commercial speech only if it is false or misleading or if the restriction directly and narrowly advances a substantial state interest. Central Hudson Gas & Elec. v. Public Serv. Comm. of N.Y., 447 U.S. 557 (1978).

Importance of Case

The Court reaffirmed that regulation of commercial speech must be examined closely and that such regulation cannot be justified solely by governmental supposition. The Court found that the alcohol content was commercial speech. It therefore applied the test set forth in Central Hudson. The Court concluded that the government had a substantial interest in prohibiting strength wars but held that the legislation at issue, when viewed in the context of other seemingly contrary legislation, could not directly and narrowly advance the government's interest.

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