Virginia State Board of Pharmacy v. Virginia Citizens Consumer Council, Inc.
425 U.S. 748 (1976)

  • Virginia had a law that made it a crime for pharmacies to advertise prices for prescription drugs.
      • It was considered ‘unprofessional’ for pharmacists to advertise because aggressive competition could impact service and encourage pharmacists to cut corners.
  • The VCCC challenged the law, claiming that it was an unconstitutional prohibition on free speech as guaranteed by the 1st Amendment.
    • VCCC noted that drug prices varied greatly among retailers and it was unfair to consumers to not let them compare.
  • The US Supreme Court found the Virginia law to be unconstitutional.
    • Until this time, it had been generally considered that advertising (aka commercial speech) was unprotected by the 1st Amendment.
      • See Valentine v. Christensen (316 U.S. 52 (1942)).
    • The Court reaffirmed their recent decision in Bigelow v. Virginia (421 U.S. 809 (1975)), and found that commercial speech is indeed covered by the 1st Amendment.
    • The Court noted that if a State had a compelling government interest, they could still regulate commercial speech. They just couldn’t completely suppress the dissemination of truthful information about lawful commercial activities because of fear about the information’s effects.
      • For example, a State could still prohibit false advertising, or regulate where billboards could be placed.