WASHINGTON - The Supreme Court on Friday upheld federal restrictions on state lottery advertisements, protecting the right of states without lotteries to shield their citizens from gambling.
Ruling 7 to 2 in a decision delivered by Justice Byron R. White, a splintered court majority said a federal law restricting broadcasts of state-run lottery advertisements does not violate the Constitution's First Amendment, which guarantees free speech rights.
Federal law generally prohibits broadcasters from carrying lottery advertisements. However, the law contains an exemption for broadcasters licensed to operate in states that have state-run lotteries.
The question before the justices in the case, United States v. Edge Broadcasting Co., was whether the federal government may forbid lottery advertisements on stations licensed in states that do not have lotteries while allowing them on stations operating in states that do have lotteries.
Four justices joined White in asserting that the federal government "has a substantial interest in supporting the policy of non-lottery states, as well as not interfering with the policy of states that permit lotteries." They also said the laws governing advertisements are "no broader than necessary to advance the government's interest."
The five justices went on to say the statutes do in fact advance the government's interest. "Instead of favoring either the lottery or the non-lottery state, Congress opted to support the anti-gambling policy of a state like North Carolina by forbidding stations in such a state from airing lottery advertising," the justices said. "At the same time it sought not to unduly interfere with the policy of a lottery-sponsoring state such as Virginia.
A different coalition of five justices, also led by White, said the law as applied to an Edge Broadcasting station in North Carolina was effective in promoting the government's interests.
Justice David H. Souter, joined by Justice Anthony Kennedy, wrote separately to state that while they agreed with the majority that the federal restrictions are constitutional, they saw no reason to delve into some issues tackled by the other justices.
In dissent, Justice John Paul Stevens, joined by Justice Harry A. Blackmun, said the ban on certain types of speech "for the purpose of manipulating public behavior is in no way proportionate to the federal government's asserted interest in protecting the anti-lottery policies of non-lottery states."
Stevens,drew an analogy with a 1975 court ruling in Bigelow v. Virginia, in which the justices said a state "may not, under the guise of exercising internal police powers, bar a citizen of another state from disseminating information about an activity that is legal in that state."
Stevens said that although that case dealt with advertising related to abortion, the ruling "is not about a woman's constitutionally protected right to terminate a pregnancy.
"It is about paternalism, and informational protectionism," Stevens said. "It is about one state's interference with its citizens' fundamental constitutional right to travel in a state of enlightenment, not government-induced ignorance."
The court majority, however, gave Stevens' dissent short shrift.
Noting the court's 1986 decision in Posadas de Puerto Rico Associates v. Tourism Co. of Puerto Rico, White said "the activity underlying the relevant advertising - gambling - implicates no constitutionally protected right; rather, it falls into a category of ~vice' activity that could be, and frequently has been, banned altogether."
The Edge Broadcasting case arose after a radio station located in North Carolina challenged the federal ban on lottery advertising in a bid to get the right to air advertisements for the Virginia lottery. Because North Carolina does not have a lottery, stations there cannot, under federal law, carry advertisements for lotteries in states that have them.
Edge Broadcasting's station, known as Power 94, broadcasts from Moycock, N.C., three miles from the Virginia border.
The district court found the lottery ad ban unconstitutional because it is "ineffective." The court reasoned that 92% of Power 94's listeners are Virginians, and that residents within the station's range already see Virginia lottery ads through Virginia-based media.
The U.S. Court of Appeals affirmed the district court ruling.
White said the lower courts were wrong to assume that the federal laws would have to shield North Carolina residents completely in order to advance their purpose.
"Congress clearly was entitled to determine that broadcast of promotional advertising of lotteries undermines North Carolina's policy against gambling, even if the North Carolina audience is not wholly unaware of the lottery's existence," White said. "Congress has, for example, altogether banned the broadcast advertising of cigarettes, even though it could hardly have believed that this regulation would keep the public wholly ignorant of the availability of cigarettes."