Virginia ABC Using Taxpayer Dollars to Defend Speech Censorship

shutterstock_666794908.jpg

We have previously weighed in on the Pacific Legal Foundation’s legal challenge to Virginia’s happy hour advertising ban, which forbids restaurants in the commonwealth from publicly advertising drink specials and discounts. This week, PLF’s Anastasia Boden updated what’s been going with the lawsuit in the Washington Post, including describing how the state is using taxpayer dollars to be as intransigent as possible in defending its censorship:

It’s been almost a year since Geoff Tracy and his restaurant, Chef Geoff’s, filed a First Amendment lawsuit asking a federal court to strike down Virginia’s happy-hour advertising laws. In the Old Dominion, it’s legal for businesses to offer happy hour. It’s just illegal for them to talk about it. Those that dare to advertise the happy-hour price of a beer or use creative terms such as “Sunday Funday” to pitch the demon rum face big fines or a suspended permit from the state’s Alcoholic Beverage Control Authority. Virginia may be for lovers, but it’s not for lovers of free speech.

After many months of litigation, Tracy is eager to present his arguments to the court. Given clear Supreme Court cases declaring it unconstitutional to restrict people from communicating truthful information about their legal business practices, one might expect ABC and the attorney general’s office, which represents it, to have abandoned the policy of censorship. Instead, the two are doubling down on their efforts to defend Virginia’s paternalistic law, recently adding some of the state’s most senior government lawyers to the case and escalating fights in discovery — which needlessly intimidate plaintiffs and drive up everyone’s expenses. In what ought to be a simple case with nary a disputed fact, the government demanded several depositions of Chef Geoff’s employees, most of whom have nothing to do with the First Amendment case. They also sought thousands of pages in financial reports detailing the sale of every item sold by the hour — every hour going back six years — from nine restaurants (six of which aren’t even in Virginia). So far, Chef Geoff’s has produced more than 68,000 pages of sales information. ABC wants more.

Depositions and document requests are expensive and entail opportunity costs. Don’t high-level officials at the attorney general’s office have serious crimes to prosecute?…

Read Anastasia’s full piece here.