It doesn’t happen often enough, but sometimes freedom wins in California. In the most recent of these rare events, the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals – yes, the Ninth – affirmed late last month a lower-court ruling that said the San Francisco ordinance which forces beverage makers to post health warning labels on sugary drink advertisements violates the First Amendment.
The media say it’s a victory for the beverage industry. Yes. But it’s also a win for freedom in general. Liberty tends to be lost in small bits, so retaining even the narrowest sliver is an encouraging development.
The message the city demanded beverage makers post for consumers – “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” – might be correct. We won’t argue that too much sugar can cause health issues. But it’s not the government’s role to police personal choice in beverages. That’s for a free people to decide for themselves.
The ruling is not quite on par with the Magna Carta Libertatum, as emancipating documents go. But it makes a nice bookend to last year’s announcement from the California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment that it had “proposed a new regulation clarifying that cancer warnings are not required for coffee.”
At that time, we said that “given how this state has for so long eagerly acted as residents’ meddlesome chaperon,” the notice was “quite shocking.” Today we are still surprised yet happy to report the Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment is finalizing the regulation.
The Ninth Circuit’s decision is a not as decisive. The court merely issued a preliminary injunction that blocks implementation of the ordinance. The city believes that by shrinking the size of the warning label by half, it will obtain the court’s approval. San Francisco‘s nannies might also try to change the language on the warning in an effort to convince the court to allow them to go forward with their intrusion into private affairs. But neither will alter the circumscriptive essence of the ordinance.
Expect the busybodies to work extra hard to save their warning label. If they can’t persuade the hard-left Ninth Circuit to endorse their authoritarian urges, they know their agenda could be in deep trouble.
Kerry Jackson is a fellow with the Center for California Reform at the Pacific Research Institute.