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Legal challenge to Missouri Liquor advertising laws successful in the U.S. Court of Appeals

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit Wednesday unanimously affirmed the Missouri Broadcasters Association 2018 trial court victory in its legal challenge to three Missouri laws that restricted alcohol advertising. The decision by the three-judge panel was unanimous, holding that all three of the state laws in issue were unconstitutional, as MBA has contended for many years. The trial court decision in June 2018, affirmed Wednesday, invalidated two regulations that prohibited media advertising of alcohol at discount prices and prices below the retailer’s cost, and a statute that prohibited alcohol producers and distributors from supporting retail media advertising, except on certain highly restricted terms. Since the trial court’s ruling, these kinds of advertising have been fully allowed in Missouri, and the appeals court ruling today means that the allowance of this advertising will stay in place. In the ruling, by Circuit Judge Jane Kelly, the court firmly rejected all of the State of Missouri’s arguments offered in justification of its advertising bans. The court found the state’s arguments variously unpersuasive, unsupported by evidence, internally inconsistent, and contrary to the First Amendment, which permits restrictions on truthful advertising only in narrow circumstances. The court also noted that MBA’s evidence contradicted the state’s claim that alcohol advertising contributed to overconsumption. At trial, the Missouri Broadcasters Association expert witness showed that alcohol consumption decreased by 15% over the last 30 years even when alcohol advertising increased by about 400%. This is the second appellate decision in this case. In a 2017 decision, the Eighth Circuit also unanimously ruled in MBA’s favor and reversed a trial court decision dismissing the case. After that ruling, the case went on to trial in 2018, and today’s decision affirms the decision of Judge Douglas Harpool, rendered in June 2018.


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