44 Liquormart, Inc. v. Rhode Island, 517 U. S. 484 (1996)

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Cite as: 517 U. S. 484 (1996)


Justice Stevens delivered the principal opinion with respect to Parts III-VI, concluding that Rhode Island's ban on advertisements that provide the public with accurate information about retail liquor prices is an unconstitutional abridgment of the freedom of speech. Pp. 495-514. (a) Justice Stevens, joined by Justice Kennedy, Justice Souter, and Justice Ginsburg, concluded in Part III that although the First Amendment protects the dissemination of truthful and nonmis-leading commercial messages about lawful products and services in order to ensure that consumers receive accurate information, see, e. g., Virginia Bd. of Pharmacy v. Virginia Citizens Consumer Council, Inc., 425 U. S. 748, 765, the special nature of commercial speech, including its "greater objectivity" and "greater hardiness," authorizes the State to regulate potentially deceptive or overreaching advertising more freely than other forms of protected speech, see, e. g., id., at 771- 772, n. 24, and requires less than strict review of such regulations, Central Hudson Gas & Elec. Corp. v. Public Serv. Comm'n of N. Y., 447 U. S. 557, 566, n. 9. However, regulations that entirely suppress commercial speech in order to pursue a policy not related to consumer protection must be reviewed with "special care," and such blanket bans should not be approved unless the speech itself was flawed in some way, either because it was deceptive or related to unlawful activity. See ibid. Pp. 495-500. (b) Justice Stevens, joined by Justice Kennedy and Justice Ginsburg, concluded in Part IV that a review of the case law reveals that commercial speech regulations are not all subject to a similar form of constitutional review simply because they target a similar category of expression. When a State regulates commercial messages to protect consumers from misleading, deceptive, or aggressive sales practices, or requires the disclosure of beneficial consumer information, the regulation's purpose is consistent with the reasons for according constitutional protection to commercial speech and therefore justifies less than strict review. However, where a State entirely prohibits the dissemination of truthful, nonmisleading commercial messages for reasons unrelated to the preservation of a fair bargaining process, there is far less reason to depart from the rigorous review that the First Amendment generally demands. The special dangers that attend such complete bans—including, most obviously, the fact that they all but foreclose alternative channels of communication—present sound reasons that justify more careful review. Pp. 501-504. (c) Justice Stevens, joined by Justice Kennedy, Justice Souter, and Justice Ginsburg, concluded in Part V that because Rhode Island's advertising ban constitutes a blanket prohibition against truthful, nonmisleading speech about a lawful product, and serves an end


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