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Case Summary for United States v. Edge Broadcasting Co.
Date Decided: June 25, 1993
Issue: Commercial Speech -- Whether the government may constitutionally prohibit a broadcaster licensed in a state that bans lotteries from broadcasting lottery advertisements, even when the vast majority of the broadcaster's audience resides in a state that allows lotteries.
Vote: Yes, 7-2
Facts: Edge Broadcasting Company owns a radio station in Moyock, North Carolina. Moyock is approximately three miles from the border between North Carolina and Virginia, and 92.2% of the station's audience lives in Virginia. Virginia allows state-run lotteries; North Carolina does not. The Federal Communications Act, 18 U.S.C. § 1304, prohibits television and radio stations operating in non-lottery states from broadcasting lottery advertisements. Edge challenged the constitutionality of this prohibition, at least as the prohibition was applied to Edge. A federal district court in Virginia ruled in Edge's favor, holding that the prohibition was ineffective in shielding North Carolina residents from lottery advertising. The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed.
Legal Principles at Issue: In Virginia State Bd. of Pharmacy v. Virginia Citizens Consumer Council, 425 U.S. 748 (1976), the U.S. Supreme Court for the first time recognized that commercial speech -- speech that concerns only commercial or economic activity -- is entitled to some First Amendment protection. The government therefore may regulate commercial speech only if it is false or misleading or if the restriction directly and narrowly advances a substantial state interest. Central Hudson Gas & Elec. v. Public Serv. Comm. of N.Y., 447 U.S. 557 (1978).
Legal Basis for Decision: The only issue in this case was whether the prohibition directly advanced the government's interest in supporting the public policy of non-lottery states. The Court agreed with the lower courts and the parties that this governmental interest was substantial and that the prohibition was no broader than necessary to advance this interest. The Court, however, rejected the finding of the lower courts that the prohibition was ineffectual and did not directly advance the governmental interest. The lower courts had based their rulings on the fact that the prohibition was not shielding the vast majority of Edge's audience from lottery advertising. The Court rejected this analysis, holding that the inquiry was not whether the governmental interest is advanced in a single situation but whether the regulation advances the interest overall. The Court held that the prohibition satisfied this more general inquiry and reversed the lower court rulings.
This Case is Important Because: The Court drastically limited the ability of a specially situated speakers to claim First Amendment protection for their commercial speech. While the Court previously had held in Ward v. Rock Against Racism, 491 U.S. 781 (1989), that restrictions on the use of a city park should be reviewed generally and not as they applied to a particular individual or situation, the Court never before had used this analysis in commercial speech cases.
Quotable: "Congress surely knew that stations in one State could often be heard in another but expressly prevented each and every North Carolina station, including Edge, from carrying lottery ads. Congress plainly made the commonsense judgment that each North Carolina station would have an audience in that State, even if its signal reached elsewhere and that enforcing the statutory restriction would insulate each station's listeners from lottery ads and hence advance the governmental purpose of supporting North Carolina's laws against gambling."
Writing for the Majority: Justice White
Voting with the Majority: Chief Justice Rehnquist, Justices O'Connor, Scalia, and Thomas (Justices Souter and Kennedy, concurring)
Writing for the Dissent: Justice Stevens
Voting with the Dissent: Justice Blackmun
Not Voting: N/A
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