WASHINGTON -- The Supreme Court put the constitutional fate of Baltimore's 1994 ordinance restricting liquor billboards in the hands of a federal appeals court yesterday.
In a brief order, the justices told the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Va., to weigh the constitutionality of the billboard law under new constitutional guidelines laid down by the justices a week ago.
Baltimore, meanwhile, will have to wait at least another week before learning what the justices intend to do with a constitutional challenge to another city billboard law: a 1994 ordinance restricting cigarette advertising on large signs.
The appeals court in Richmond had upheld both the liquor and cigarette billboard laws. But the Supreme Court appears to have reduced the government's power to regulate advertising.
In a unanimous ruling last week, the court struck down two Rhode Island laws that imposed flat bans on liquor advertising except where liquor is sold. The broad ruling appeared to put in doubt most government attempts to restrict truthful information that companies may offer to customers about their products or services.
The Baltimore City Council adopted the restriction on liquor advertising in January 1994. It bans any advertising in "publicly visible locations," which include billboards and sides of buildings. The ordinance, however, exempts a number of other displays, such as neon signs on the premises of a liquor outlet, signs on city buses and on liquor delivery trucks, highway signs and signs in the Camden Yards ballpark.
Two months later, the City Council adopted a similar law banning advertising of cigarettes in "publicly visible locations."
After the Supreme Court's ruling last week providing broad new protection for "commercial speech," city lawyers for Baltimore filed new legal papers at the court, arguing that the decision should not be used to nullify the Baltimore ordinances.
Advertisers also filed new legal papers, contending that the new ruling meant that the two Baltimore ordinances could not stand.
The Supreme Court took no final position yesterday on the validity of either ordinance, instead sending the liquor billboard case back to the lower court while the justices continued to consider the cigarette billboard dispute.
Pub Date: 5/21/96