State responds to lawsuit alleging limitations on alcohol ads violate First Amendment

VIRGINIA -- The state attorney general's office has filed its response to a lawsuit that challenges the constitutionality of a regulation prohibiting college student publications from running alcohol advertisements.

The lawsuit was filed in federal district court in early June on behalf of the Collegiate Times, the student newspaper at Virginia Tech, and The Cavalier Daily, the student newspaper at the University of Virginia. It seeks to overturn Virginia Administrative Code Section 5-20-40 arguing it violates the students' First Amendment rights.

In its response, filed late last week, the state argues that, to the extent the code regulates constitutionally protected speech, it is constitutional because it ''advances a substantial governmental interest.''

Additionally, the state denies that the papers have suffered any damages or injury as a result of the policy and questions whether the newspapers meet the regulation's definition of college student publications.

''No final determination has yet been made that either the Collegiate Times or The Cavalier Daily constitutes a 'college student publication,''' according to the response.

The statute defines ''college student publication'' as: ''any college or university publication that is prepared, edited or published primarily by students at such institution, is sanctioned as a curricular or extra-curricular activity by such institution and which is distributed or intended to be distributed primarily to persons under 21 years of age.''

Rebecca Glenberg, legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia, which filed the lawsuit on behalf of the students, called the response ''pretty standard.''

''We still feel confident that the law is on our side and the precedent in Pennsylvania will go a long way in invalidating the regulation in Virginia,'' Glenberg said.

In 2004, a three-judge panel of the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals found that a Pennsylvania law designed to curb the amount of alcohol ads directed to students under the age of 21 by prohibiting such advertising in campus publications violated the First Amendment.

The Virginia Attorney General's Office declined further comment.

Glenberg said the next step is discovery and did not expect the case going to trial for several months.

Collegiate Times, news, The Cavalier Daily, University of Virginia, Virginia, Virginia Tech