Court again upholds city billboard restrictions Liquor, cigarette ads are targeted

November 14, 1996|By Lyle Denniston | Lyle Denniston,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON -- Baltimore city ordinances restricting cigarette and liquor billboards that may be seen by minors survived a new constitutional challenge in a split decision by a federal appeals court yesterday.

In upholding the city's limits on cigarette advertising, the xTC appeals court also gave the Clinton administration a victory in its effort to stop the marketing of tobacco to minors. The administration had supported the Baltimore anti-tobacco measure, seeing the case as a broad test of such restrictions.

The court that issued the decision -- the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Va. -- will handle constitutional challenges to the Clinton anti-tobacco campaign in coming months.

The appeals court, voting 2-1, said Baltimore had sufficient reason to try to protect minors from the promotion of products that are illegal for them.

The court majority said, "Baltimore's interest is to protect children who are not yet independently able to assess the value of the message presented" by billboards.

Advertisers and marketers of cigarettes and liquor may ask the full appeals court to reconsider yesterday's ruling or appeal to the Supreme Court. One of their lawyers said the issue probably would wind up in the Supreme Court.

Yesterday's decision marked the second time in 15 months that the Baltimore ordinances had withstood First Amendment challenges in the appeals court.

Between those two rulings, a Supreme Court decision in May provided new constitutional protection for the First Amendment freedoms of advertisers. That ruling warned government officials against acting "to keep people in the dark for what the government perceives to be their own good."

After that decision, the Supreme Court told the appeals court in Richmond to reconsider its earlier ruling upholding the Baltimore ordinances.

Pub Date: 11/14/96

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