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Supreme Court hears arguments on corporate freedom of speech

The US Supreme Court [official website; JURIST news archive] heard oral arguments [day call, PDF; merit briefs] Tuesday in Sorrell v. IMS Health [oral argument transcript, PDF; JURIST report] to determine whether a state law prohibiting prescription drug manufacturers from using data collected from physicians is a violation of the First Amendment [text] right to freedom of speech. The law in question targets pharmaceutical companies and has the effect of limiting the scope of marketing prescription drugs within the state. Counsel for the petitioner, the state of Vermont, argued that the aim of the law was to protect physician privacy, and that pharmaceutical companies have no right to the data in question. The petitioner also argued that the law does not regulate the content of the advertising, but rather the access the companies have to specific data. Counsel for the respondents argued that the court should avoid an "absolute" rule regarding collection of data, but should rather allow states to address privacy issues through laws with a more narrow scope than the Vermont law. The US argued as amicus curiae on behalf of the petitioners in the case.

The US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit [official website] ruled [opinion, PDF] in August 2009 that the district court erred in their finding that the Vermont statute was constitutionally permissible. The court of appeals held that the statute was an impermissible restriction on corporate speech that does not withstand immediate scrutiny because it is not narrowly tailored to advance a substantial state interest.

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