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

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


tion of commercial speech when the First and Fourteenth Amendments were adopted, or even as to any national consensus on the subject later developed, he would simply adhere to the Court's existing jurisprudence, which renders the Rhode Island regulation invalid. Pp. 517-518.

Justice Thomas concluded that in cases such as this, in which the government's asserted interest is to keep legal users of a product or service ignorant in order to manipulate their choices in the marketplace, the Central Hudson balancing test should not be applied. Rather, such an "interest" is per se illegitimate, cf., e. g., Virginia Bd. of Pharmacy v. Virginia Citizens Consumer Council, Inc., 425 U. S. 748, 768-770, and can no more justify regulation of "commercial" speech than it can justify regulation of "noncommercial" speech. Pp. 518-528.

Justice O'Connor, joined by The Chief Justice, Justice Souter, and Justice Breyer, agreed with the principal opinion that Rhode Island's prohibition on alcohol-price advertising is invalid and cannot be saved by the Twenty-first Amendment, but concluded that the First Amendment question must be resolved more narrowly by applying the test established in Central Hudson Gas & Elec. Corp. v. Public Serv. Comm'n of N. Y., 447 U. S. 557, 566. Assuming that the prohibition satisfies the test's first three prongs—i. e., that (1) the speech at issue concerns lawful activity and is not misleading, (2) the asserted governmental interest is substantial, and (3) the regulation directly advances the governmental interest—Rhode Island's regulation fails the final fourth prong because its ban is more extensive than necessary to serve its stated interest. Rhode Island justifies its ban on price advertising on the ground that the ban is intended to keep alcohol prices high as a way to keep consumption low. In order for a speech restriction to pass muster under the fourth prong, there must be a reasonable fit between the legislature's goal and method. Board of Trustees of State Univ. of N. Y. v. Fox, 492 U. S. 469, 480. The fit here is not reasonable, since the State has other methods at its disposal—e. g., establishing minimum prices and/or increasing sales taxes on alcoholic beverages—that would more directly accomplish its stated goal without intruding on sellers' ability to provide truthful, nonmisleading information to customers. Posadas de Puerto Rico Associates v. Tourism Co. of P. R., 478 U. S. 328, 341-344, distinguished. The principal opinion errs in adopting a new analysis for the evaluation of commercial speech regulation. Pp. 528-534.

Stevens, J., announced the judgment of the Court, and delivered the opinion of the Court with respect to Parts I, II, and VII, in which Scalia, Kennedy, Souter, Thomas, and Ginsburg, JJ., joined, the opinion of the Court with respect to Part VIII, in which Scalia, Kennedy, Souter, and Ginsburg, JJ., joined, an opinion with respect to Parts III and V, in


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