Manufacturers Fight “Ventriloquist Regulation”

The freedom to speak or refrain from speaking is a cherished right under the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The ability of manufacturers to exercise that right is under attack, and the National Association of Manufacturers’ (NAM) Manufacturers’ Center for Legal Action (MCLA) is fighting back.

Over the past few years, some cities and even the federal government have sought to use manufacturers as ventriloquist puppets to spread political messages that could harm sales and damage company reputations. The latest example comes from San Francisco, where the city council passed an ordinance that requires warnings on certain advertisements for beverages containing added sugar. Here is how the warning would look on an actual advertisement:

Groups representing beverage manufacturers, retailers and advertisers sued in federal court to block the ordinance. They lost at the trial level but won on appeal. The city is now seeking a further appeal to the full U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit, located in San Francisco.

The legal issues in this case, American Beverage Association v. City of San Francisco, will have far-reaching implications for manufacturers. If governments like San Francisco’s can force manufacturers to speak out against the very products they create or compel companies to spread controversial messages on their products or advertising, companies’ voices could be silenced and their business harmed.

This week, the MCLA filed an amicus brief in support of the beverage companies that argues against the city’s ordinance and the larger problem of regulation through forced speech. Our brief argues that courts should invalidate government efforts to coerce companies into spreading a political message or speaking out against their product or service. By promoting rigorous judicial review of these misguided regulatory efforts, we expect to deter other like-minded cities from enacting similar requirements. And if other cities continue to do so, the MCLA will be prepared to argue against those requirements and help strike them down as well.

Peter Tolsdorf

Peter Tolsdorf is the vice president of litigation and deputy general counsel at the National Association of Manufacturers.

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