San Francisco soda warnings case on hold pending Supreme Court ruling
STORY BY: Nate Raymond
(Reuters) – A federal appeals court will hold off on deciding whether to block a San Francisco law mandating health warnings for soda and other sugary drinks until the U.S. Supreme Court rules on a free speech case involving anti-abortion crisis pregnancy centers.
The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco issued the order on Thursday after agreeing in January to have all of its 11 active judges review a three-judge panel’s decision blocking the law.
The order came after the Supreme Court on Tuesday heard arguments over whether to uphold a California law that requires Christian-based crisis pregnancy centers to post notices about the availability of state-subsidized abortions.
Justices during the arguments on both the right and left indicated that the law, which targets facilities that steer pregnant women away from abortion, may violate free speech rights.
Various justices voiced concern that the Democratic-backed 2015 law was crafted to take aim at a specific viewpoint — opposition to abortion — held by these nonprofit facilities.
Like that case, the lawsuit over San Francisco’s law similarly raises questions under the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment.
The city’s ordinance is part of a growing national movement seeking to curb consumption of soft drinks and other high-calorie beverages that medical experts say are largely to blame for an epidemic of childhood obesity.
The ordinance, enacted in June 2015, banned manufacturers, retailers and advertisers from promoting beverages with added sugar within the city unless they included what the plaintiffs called an “unprecedented” warning statement.
Required to take up at least 20 percent of the ad, the warning is to read: “WARNING: Drinking beverages with added sugar(s) contributes to obesity, diabetes, and tooth decay. This is a message from the City and County of San Francisco.”
Groups including the American Beverage Association and the California Retailers Association sued to block the law, arguing it violates their and their members’ free speech rights.
In September, a three-judge panel overturned a lower-court judge’s decision to deny an injunction, saying the groups were likely to succeed with their claim that the ordinance was unjustified and violated commercial speech.
“In short, rather than being ‘purely factual and uncontroversial,’ the warning requires the Associations to convey San Francisco’s disputed policy views,” U.S. Circuit Judge Sandra Ikuta wrote.
Richard Bress, a lawyer for the associations at Latham & Watkins, did not respond to a request for comment.
The case is American Beverage Association et al v. City and County of San Francisco, 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeal, No. 16-16072.
For American Beverage Association: Richard Bress of Latham & Watkins
For San Francisco: Deputy City Attorney Christine Van Aken