A sure thing. Take it to the bank. Throw in any count-on-it cliche you want, but it's looking more and more like the state is going to be sued over its restrictive law that bans alcohol advertising.
"It is a matter of legal concern," Assistant Utah Attorney General Thom Roberts told the Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission Friday. In fact, those who sell spirits have told Roberts that "litigation may be the only way to resolve it."That prospect comes in the wake of a U.S. Supreme Court decision in which the justices struck down a Rhode Island prohibition of alcohol price advertising, saying the ban violated the First Amendment guaranteeing free speech. Utah has an even more restrictive ban inasmuch as the state prohibits all forms of alcohol advertising.
The court made it clear that states' 21st Amendment rights to regulate commerce in alcohol did not supersede free speech provisions of the First Amendment. They also ruled that commercial speech enjoys constitutional protection so long as the product is legal and the advertisement is not misleading.
More applicable to Utah's case, the justices ruled that Rhode Island had not proven that its ban on alcohol advertising accomplished what it was intended to do - promote temperance.
Could Utah prove that an outright ban on alcohol advertising accomplished the stated intent of Utah's law? Roberts said the intent of Utah's law is more far-reaching than Rhode Island's.
In addition to the stated policy that liquor advertising bans are intended to keep "solicitation of such beverages to an actual minimum," Utah's law specifically states that liquor regulations are designed to "protect the public interest, including the rights of citizens who do not wish to be involved with alcoholic products."
The issues of public interest and the rights of non-drinkers were not addressed in the Rhode Island decision.
Commissioner Nicholas Hale cautioned that the Supreme Court ruled on a liquor regulatory system "substantially different" than that of Utah, and that the ruling did not offer "clear direction."
"I encourage no one to overreact to the decision of the Supreme Court," Hale said.
Because of the potential litigation, Roberts advised commissioners they may want to close the meeting to the public. The commissioners rejected that idea, at least for the time being.
The commission will discuss the ruling in greater detail at its June 28 meeting. The commissioners promised that meeting also would be open to the public.