“Unfortunately, because Congress did not consider the First Amendment implications of this legislation, it did not concern itself with how the regulations could be narrowly tailored to avoid unintentionally compelling commercial speech.”

February 29th, 2012

When does Congress ever consider the constitutional implications of its legislation?

Certainly not when placing grotesque warning labels on cigarettes! Judge Leon granted summary judgment in favor of the tobacco plaintiffs on the warning label case.

Leon wrote in today’s opinion that the labels in question “are neither factual nor accurate.” He cited one of the labels that shows a body on an autopsy table as an example. “For example, the image of the body on an autopsy table suggests that smoking leads to autopsies; but the Government provides no support to show that autopsies are a common consequence of smoking,” he wrote. “Indeed, it makes no attempt to do so.”

“Put simply, the Government fails to convey any factual information supported by evidence about the actual health consequences of smoking through its use of these graphic images,” Leon wrote.

Leon added that it was unfortunate that the federal government hadn’t considered other alternatives to the labels requirement “that are easily less restrictive and burdensome for plaintiffs, yet would still allow the Government to educate the public on the health risks of smoking without unconstitutionally compelling speech.” Examples included shrinking the size of the proposed labels, picking graphics based in fact “rather than gruesome images designed to disgust the consumer,” increasing cigarette taxes or improving efforts to stop sales to minors.

In a footnote, the court distinguishes between a “Warning” and “Deter[ring] individuals from purchasing the packages.” He doesn’t even think pictures of an autopsy are warnings. They are “Graphic images.”