Federal Appeals Court Reconsiders Banning Liquor Ads in Student Papers

By: LARRY O'DELL A federal appeals court grappled Thursday with the question of whether a judge went too far when she overturned Virginia's ban on liquor advertising in college newspapers ? a regulation the state says is intended to curb illegal underage drinking.

Virginia Tech's Collegiate Times and the University of Virginia's Cavalier Daily challenged the ban. U.S. Magistrate Judge M. Hannah Lauck ruled last year that the regulations violated campus newspapers' free-speech rights. She also said there was no proof that the ban deterred drinking by college students under age 21. The state appealed.

Assistant Attorney General Catherine Hill urged a three-judge panel of the 4th U.S. Court of Appeals to revive the regulations, which ban ads for beer, wine and mixed drinks in student-run publications unless they're in the context of an ad for a restaurant. The regulations also ban the phrase "happy hour" and references to specific mixed drinks.

Hill said Lauck "ignored empirical evidence that there is a correlation between alcohol advertising and underage drinking."

However, attorney Rebecca Glenberg of the American Civil Liberties Union argued that most readers of the U.Va. and Tech newspapers ? including graduate students, faculty and staff ? are 21 or older. She also said the government cannot justify targeting student newspapers when other publications available on campus are free to run liquor ads.

The University of Pittsburgh's student newspaper, Pitt News, successfully challenged similar restrictions in 2004. In an opinion written by Samuel Alito, now a U.S. Supreme Court Justice, the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals held that the ban imposed an unfair financial burden on student-run publications and hindered their free-speech rights.

Judge Dennis Shedd of the 4th Circuit said advertisers have plenty of other outlets, including local newspapers and radio, for getting their message to students.

"That's the reason the state should always be looking for alternatives to advertising bans to achieve their ends," Glenberg said.

Much of the hearing centered on whether the case should deal only with how the regulation applies to the U.Va. and Tech newspapers. Lauck's ruling invalidated the ban for all college newspapers in the state.

"The only evidence before the court was specific to two newspapers," Hill said. She said that while the majority of students at U.Va. and Tech may be 21 or older, "we don't know the ages at other schools that don't have large graduate programs."

The court usually takes several weeks to issue a ruling.


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