Rubin v. Coors Brewing Co., 514 U.S. 476 (1995)

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certiorari to the united states court of appeals for the tenth circuit

No. 93-1631. Argued November 30, 1994—Decided April 19, 1995

Because 5(e)(2) of the Federal Alcohol Administration Act (FAAA or

Act), 27 U. S. C. 205(e)(2), prohibits beer labels from displaying alcohol content, the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (BATF) rejected respondent brewer's application for approval of proposed labels that disclosed such content. Respondent filed suit for relief on the ground that the relevant provisions of the Act violated the First Amendment's protection of commercial speech. The Government argued that the labeling ban was necessary to suppress the threat of "strength wars" among brewers, who, without the regulation, would seek to compete in the marketplace based on the potency of their beer. The District Court invalidated the labeling ban, and the Court of Appeals affirmed. Although the latter court found that the Government's interest in suppressing "strength wars" was "substantial" under the test set out in Central Hudson Gas & Elec. Corp. v. Public Serv. Comm'n of N. Y., 447 U. S. 557, the court held that the ban violates the First Amendment because it fails to advance that interest in a direct and material way.

Held: Section 5(e)(2) violates the First Amendment's protection of commercial speech. Pp. 480-491. (a) In scrutinizing a regulation of commercial speech that concerns lawful activity and is not misleading, a court must consider whether the governmental interest asserted to support the regulation is "substantial." If that is the case, the court must also determine whether the regulation directly advances the asserted interest and is no more extensive than is necessary to serve that interest. Central Hudson, supra, at 566. Here, respondent seeks to disclose only truthful, verifiable, and nonmisleading factual information concerning alcohol content. Pp. 480-482. (b) The interest in curbing "strength wars" is sufficiently "substantial" to satisfy Central Hudson. The Government has a significant interest in protecting the health, safety, and welfare of its citizens by preventing brewers from competing on the basis of alcohol strength, which could lead to greater alcoholism and its attendant social costs. Cf. Posadas de Puerto Rico Associates v. Tourism Co. of P. R., 478 U. S. 328, 341. There is no reason to think that strength wars, if they were

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