Virginia State Board of Pharmacy v. Virginia Citizens Consumer Council, Inc.

PETITIONER: Virginia State Board of Pharmacy
RESPONDENT: Virginia Citizens Consumer Council, Inc.
LOCATION: Virginia Citizens Consumer Council

DOCKET NO.: 74-895
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1975-1981)
LOWER COURT:

CITATION: 425 US 748 (1976)
ARGUED: Nov 11, 1975
DECIDED: May 24, 1976

ADVOCATES:
Alan B. Morrison - Argued the cause for the appellees
Anthony F. Troy - Argued the cause for the appellants

Facts of the case

Acting on behalf of prescription drug consumers, the Virginia Citizens Consumer Council challenged a Virginia statute that declared it unprofessional conduct for licensed pharmacists to advertise their prescription drug prices. On appeal from an adverse ruling by a three-judge District Court panel, the Supreme Court granted the Virginia State Board of Pharmacy review.

Question

Is a statutory ban on advertising prescription drug prices by licensed pharmacists a violation of "commercial speech" under the First Amendment?

Media for Virginia State Board of Pharmacy v. Virginia Citizens Consumer Council, Inc.

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - November 11, 1975 in Virginia State Board of Pharmacy v. Virginia Citizens Consumer Council, Inc.

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - May 24, 1976 in Virginia State Board of Pharmacy v. Virginia Citizens Consumer Council, Inc.

Warren E. Burger:

The judgments and opinion of the Court in No. 74-895, Virginia State Board of Pharmacy against Virginia Citizens Consumer Council will be announced by Mr. Justice Blackmun.

Harry A. Blackmun:

This case comes to us from a Three-Judge Federal Court in the Eastern District of Virginia.

The appellees are consumers of prescription drugs.

They instituted this suit against the Virginia State Board of Pharmacy, challenging the validity under the First and Fourteenth Amendments of a Virginia statute which declares it to be unprofessional conduct if a licensed pharmacist advertises the prices of prescription drugs.

The District Court declared the statute void and enjoined the appellants from enforcing it.

We hold that these consumers enjoy the same First Amendment protection that advertisers have to disseminate prescription drug price information and thus that the appellees, as recipients of the information, have standing to bring the suit.

We further hold that so-called commercial speech is not wholly outside the protection of the First and Fourteenth Amendments.

The individual consumer and society, in general, may have strong interests in the free flow of commercial information.

The ban on advertising prescription drug prices cannot be justified on the basis of the State’s interest in maintaining the professionalism of its licensed pharmacists.

The State is free to require of course whatever professional standard it wishes of its pharmacists, but it may not do so by keeping the public in ignorance of the lawful terms that competing pharmacists are offering.

The Court, of course, has recognized time, place and manner restrictions on commercial speech, but whatever these maybe, they are plainly exceeded by this Virginia statute which singles out speech of a particular content and seeks to prevent its dissemination completely.

We point out that there is no claim made here that the prohibited prescription drug advertisements are false or are misleading or that they propose illegal transactions.

What we are concerned with in this case is concededly truthful information about entirely lawful activity and the State’s fear of the effect of that information upon its disseminators and its recipients.

We also stress that this case concerns only the regulation of commercial advertising by pharmacists.

Although we express no opinion as to other professions, the distinction between professions may require consideration of quite different factors.

Physicians and lawyers, for example, do not dispense standardized products as we are concerned with in the present case.

They render professional services.

I am authorized to say that the Chief Justice and Mr. Justice Stewart each has filed a separate concurring opinion and that Mr. Justice Rehnquist has filed a dissenting opinion.

Mr. Justice Stevens took no part in the consideration or decision of this case.

Warren E. Burger:

Thank you Mr. Justice Blackmun.