FAC 6 (First Amendment Conversations) Powell Law Clerk David O. Stewart Discusses the Origins of Central Hudson’s 4-Prong Test
[T]he Central Hudson test is susceptible to a wide variety of interpretations . . . . — Martin Redish (2001)
After a period of much controversy, the Court in 1980 in Central Hudson articulated a general test for determining the constitutionality of regulations of commercial speech. Although the test has subsequently been interpreted from radically different perspectives, and although it has been attacked by numerous Justices, it has nevertheless remained the dominant test. — Robert Post (2000)
Before Sorrell v. IMS Health Inc. (2011) and 44 Liquormart, Inc. v. Rhode Island (1996), there was Central Hudson Gas & Electric v. Public Service Commission (1980).
When it comes to commercial speech and the First Amendment, Central Hudson was the coin of the realm in its day. Recall, the vote was 8-1 with Justice Lewis Powell writing the majority opinion (joined by Justices Stewart, White, Marshall, and Chief Justice Burger), with separate concurrences by Justice Brennan, Blackmun, and Stevens. Justice William Rehnquist wrote a lone dissent.
Recall as well that Telford Taylor (counsel for the prosecution at the Nuremberg Trials) argued the case on behalf of the Appellants and Burt Neuborne filed an amicus brief on behalf of the Long Island Lighting Co. supporting the Appellants.
Justice Powell was virtually silent during oral arguments. Justices Byron White, John Paul Stevens, Potter Stewart, William Rehnquist, and Harry Blackmun asked the lion’s share of the questions. Even so, the Chief Justice assigned the opinion to Justice Powell.
Central Hudson was the case where the famed four-prong test was announced. Recently, I had occasion to look through the Powell papers archived at the Washington and Lee School of Law library. In browsing through those papers, I came upon a batch of memos and draft opinions concerning the Central Hudson case.
Much to my surprise, a good friend of mine, David O. Stewart, played a major role as the law clerk responsible for drafting Justice Powell’s Central Hudson majority opinion. In that regard, I asked David if he would answer a few questions about the case and his involvement in it. He kindly agreed; his responses are set out below. Read More