Order bars Va. from enforcing ban on alcohol ads in college papers

VIRGINIA -- A federal judge on Thursday issued a permanent injunction barring Virginia's Alcoholic Beverage Control board from enforcing two regulations that ban certain kinds of alcohol advertisements in newspapers.

The injunction follows a March 31 ruling by U.S. Magistrate Judge M. Hannah Lauck declaring two provisions of the ban were "facially unconstitutional" because they violated the First Amendment.

One of the regulations Lauck struck down banned alcohol advertisements in student newspapers.

"This decision reaffirms the idea that student newspapers are part of the press just like any other publication," said Rebecca Glenberg, attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia.

The lawsuit was brought against the Virginia Alcoholic Beverage Control board in June 2006 by the ACLU on behalf of two student newspapers: University of Virginia's The Cavalier Daily and Virginia Tech's Collegiate Times.

"It's great we're finally able to print what we want to," said David Harries, editor in chief of the Collegiate Times. "It's not for them to decide what we can and cannot print. It falls under freedom of the press."

In a document filed with the court, The Cavalier Daily estimated it lost about $30,000 in 2006 because of the alcohol advertisement ban.

In March, Lauck ruled that two provisions restricting alcohol ads were unconstitutional, but she allowed both sides to suggest the way Lauck should interpret the ABC's policy.

The attorney general's office of Virginia, which represented the ABC, asked Lauck to issue a narrow order that would still allow the state to enforce parts of the regulations. Lauck, siding with the ACLU, chose to completely strike the provisions.

"The regulation said that it could ban advertisements directed primarily at people under the age of 21, but the ABC was never very clear on what they meant by that," Glenberg said.

The attorney general's office said they were reviewing the decision but declined to comment otherwise. They will have 30 days to appeal the ruling.

The Virginia decision comes after a 2004 decision in the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that struck down a similar law in Pennsylvania.

Although the decision is a victory for college publications, it does not necessarily allow any Virginia publication to advertise alcohol. A major point in the ACLU's case was that a college publication serves many readers over the age of 21 and thus should be able to advertise a service legal to that portion of the newspaper's readers.

Glenberg acknowledged that if a publication has a readership predominantly under the age of 21 or advertises alcohol to minors in another way, it might be prohibited from publishing alcohol advertisements.

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