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BIGELOW V. VIRGINIA, 421 U. S. 809 (1975)

U.S. Supreme Court

Bigelow v. Virginia, 421 U.S. 809 (1975)

Bigelow v. Virginia

No. 73-1309

Argued December 18, 1974

Decided June 16, 1975

421 U.S. 809


Appellant, the managing editor of a weekly newspaper published in Virginia, as the result of publishing a New York City organization's advertisement announcing that it would arrange low-cost placements for women with unwanted pregnancies in accredited hospitals and clinics in New York (where abortions were legal and there were no residency requirements), was convicted of violating a Virginia statute making it a misdemeanor, by the sale or circulation of any publication, to encourage or prompt the processing of an abortion. The trial court had rejected appellant's claim that the statute was unconstitutional under the First Amendment as made applicable to the States by the Fourteenth as being facially overbroad and as applied to appellant. The Virginia Supreme Court affirmed the conviction, also rejecting appellant's First Amendment claim and holding that the advertisement was a commercial one which could be constitutionally prohibited under the State's police power, and that, because appellant himself lacked a legitimate First Amendment interest inasmuch as his activity "was of a purely commercial nature," he had no standing to challenge the statute as being facially overbroad.


1. Though an intervening amendment of the statute, as a practical matter, moots the overbreadth issue for the future, the Virginia courts erred in denying appellant standing to raise that issue, since "pure speech", rather than conduct, was involved, and no consideration was given to whether or not the alleged overbreadth was substantial. Pp. 421 U. S. 815-818.

2. The statute as applied to appellant infringed constitutionally protected speech under the First Amendment. Pp. 421 U. S. 818-829.

(a) The Virginia courts erred in assuming that advertising, as such, was entitled to no First Amendment protection and that appellant had no legitimate First Amendment interest, since speech is not stripped of First Amendment protection merely because it appears in the form of a paid commercial advertisement, and the fact that the advertisement in question had commercial

Page 421 U. S. 810

aspects or reflected the advertiser's commercial interests did not negate all First Amendment guarantees. Pp. 421 U. S. 818-821.

(b) Viewed in its entirety, the advertisement conveyed information of potential interest and value to a diverse audience consisting of not only readers possibly in need of the services offered, but also those concerned with the subject matter or the law of another State, and readers seeking reform in Virginia; and thus appellant's First Amendment interests coincided with the constitutional interests of the general public. Pp. 421 U. S. 821-822.

(c) A State does not acquire power or supervision over another State's internal affairs merely because its own citizens' welfare and health may be affected when they travel to the other State, and while a State may seek to disseminate information so as to enable its citizens to make better informed decisions when they leave, it may not, under the guise of exercising internal police powers, bar a citizen of another State from disseminating information about an activity that is legal in that State, as the placement services here were at the time they were advertised. Pp. 421 U. S. 822-825.

(d) Virginia's asserted interest in regulating what Virginians may hear or read about the New York services or in shielding its citizens from information about activities outside Virginia's borders (which Virginia's police powers do not reach) is entitled to little, if any, weight under the circumstances. Pp. 421 U. S. 826-828.

214 Va. 341, 200 S.E.2d 680, reversed.

BLACKMUN, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BURGER, C.J., and DOUGLAS, BRENNAN, STEWART, MARSHALL, and POWELL, JJ., joined. REHNQUIST, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which WHITE, J., joined, post, p. 421 U. S. 829.

Page 421 U. S. 811

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