- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 31, 2007

RICHMOND — The American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia yesterday asked a federal judge to throw out the state’s decades-old ban on alcohol advertising in student newspapers.

Virginia Tech’s Collegiate Times and the University of Virginia’s Cavalier Daily filed a lawsuit last June against the Virginia Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) claiming that a ban on alcoholic-beverage ads is unconstitutional because it violates the newspapers’ free-speech rights.

ACLU attorney Rebecca Glenberg argued that the state must substantiate its interest in maintaining the ban, which was adopted in 1988 and covers all publications prepared, edited and distributed by students at Virginia colleges.

“The burden of proof is on the government,” Miss Glenberg told U.S. Magistrate Judge Hannah Lauck, who did not indicate when she would issue a ruling.

Government researchers have been unable to quantify the effectiveness of such a ban, said Miss Glenberg, who advocated for other methods of curbing underage drinking that don’t restrict freedom of speech.

“Studies show raising taxes and counter-advertising are methods known to curb alcohol consumption,” Miss Glenberg said.

Catherine Hill, a senior assistant attorney general, said that the government has substantial interest in maintaining the ban.

The ABC wants the ban to remain in place so that a disproportionate number of underage drinkers aren’t exposed to ads that may encourage binge and underage drinking, Miss Hill argued.

Collegiate Times, which is supported mostly through advertising, has said that the ban unfairly curbs its revenues because it has had to turn down some ad offers, while other area newspapers have not.

Miss Glenberg said that the regulation discriminates between types of newspapers without clearly explaining why. Miss Hill argued that a student newspaper differs from other publications.

Tucker Martin, a spokesman for Attorney General Robert F. McDonnell, said after the hearing that Mr. McDonnell thinks the regulation is constitutional “and will continue to vigorously defend it.”

Some states regulate student newspaper advertising, while in other cases, colleges regulate, said Miss Glenberg, who didn’t know how widespread such bans are.

The ACLU has noted that the University of Pittsburgh’s student newspaper, Pitt News, successfully challenged similar restrictions in 2004. The 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the ban placed an unfair financial burden on student-run publications and hindered their right to free speech while doing little to achieve its goal.

That opinion was written by Samuel A. Alito Jr., now a U.S. Supreme Court justice.

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