A federal appeals court in St. Louis has given Missouri broadcasters a reason to pop a few corks. The court upheld a lower court ruling that struck down three state laws that put restrictions on alcohol advertising. The three-judge panel in the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals was unanimous in its decision, which said the state limits violated First Amendment free speech rights. The appeals court said the Missouri laws, which severely restrict alcohol distributors and producers from most retail advertising, aren’t needed to ensure an “orderly” marketplace.
“Missouri fails to show how the statute, as applied, alleviates to a significant degree the harm of undue influence,” wrote U.S. Circuit Judge Jane Kelly in the 15-page decision. She said the state attempted to use “consensus and history” to defend its statutes. But she said that effort was “misplaced” because it relied too heavily on what other states have done and wasn’t focused on Missouri’s own history or the particular regulations at the center of the fight. “The fact that other states and the federal government have tied-house laws does not make Missouri’s version constitutional,” wrote Kelly.
The court noted that under the law a bar could run an ad which says “drink Coors Light, now available at Joe’s Bar” but a producer or distributor could not.
The Missouri Broadcasters Association (MBA) has been leading the charge to have the state’s regulations struck down for nearly a decade. Missouri has had some of the strictest alcohol advertising rules in the country, employing a three-tiered system of alcohol producers, distributors and retailers designed to keep producers and distributors from having “undue influence” over places that sell or serve their products. But broadcasters have said the rules unfairly disadvantaged local radio and television stations and newspapers since internet ads weren’t covered by the laws.