Analysis of Central Hudson Gas & Electric Corp. v. Public Service Commission of New York

Parties

The plaintiff in this case was Central Hudson Gas and Electric Corporation. On the other hand, the defendant was the Public Service Commission of New York. The plaintiff sought to challenge the legality of a regulation that had placed a total ban to any promotional advertisements but allowed for informational ads that would promote shifting consumption from peak to nonpeak periods and lead to energy conservation.  

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Facts 

The condition leading to the ban started during the winter period between 1973 and 1974 where there was experienced an electricity shortage in New York State. This prompted the Public Service Commission to put in place a ban on any advertisement that sought to promote use of electricity. By 1976 the shortage had reduced prompting the Public Service Commission to consider whether to uphold the ban or lift it. The commission decided to continue with the ban in an effort to promote conservation of energy. This prompted the Central Hudson Gas and Electric Corp to file a suit against the public Service Commission. The claim in the suit indicated that the commission was infringing on their First and Fourteenth Amendment constitutional rights involving commercial speech. 

Procedure

The plaintiff had filed the case at the State Court where they had made a charge that the defendant had deprive their commercial speech which was a violation of the First and Fourteenth Amendments of the Constitution. The trial court upheld the regulation which prompted the Central Hudson and Electric Corporation to file an appeal with the New York Court of Appeals. Here again the regulation was sustained with the court indicating that the government interests outweighed the limited constitutional implication of the commercial speech at issue. The plaintiff made another appeal at the Supreme Court.

Issue

The question that the Supreme Court had sought to answer was, “Whether the Public Service Commission of the State of New York acted in violation of the rights on commercial speech as stated in the First and Fourteenth Amendments of the constitution through the regulation that completely banned the promotional advertising by an electrical company?”

Applicable Laws

This case entailed a consideration of rights as provided by the constitutional principles through the First Amendment and the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States constitution. The First Amendment of the US Constitution prohibited making of laws that prohibited the free exercise of religion, abridge freedom of speech, freedom of press, and right to protest peacefully. Among the type of speech guaranteed by the First Amendment is the commercial speech. Commercial speech is carried out on behalf of the company or an individual with an aim of acquiring a profit. However, unlike the political speech, the commercial speech is fully granted the protection. 

The Fourteenth Amendment seeks to offer protection for one’s rights to be free from unwarranted searched and seizures. The Fourteenth Amendment first section includes; citizenship clause, privileges or immunities clause, due process clause and equal protection clause. On this case, the equal protection clause was applicable this case as it requires equal protection of all people under the law. The due process clause was also relevant in this case as tit prohibits the state, and local government officials from depriving people of their rights.

Holding

The Supreme Court upheld the ruling by the Court of Appeals that had banned an electricity utility from making advertisements that promoted the use of electricity that violated the First and Fourteenth Amendments. The court established a four-step analysis for commercial speech to establish the legitimacy of the ban on the promotional advertising. 1. Whether the expression is protected by the First Amendment of the US Constitution. (2). To ascertain whether it indicated a governmental interest, (3). The court needed to establish whether the regulation directly was a means of achieving the government interest indicated, (4). To determine whether the ban is more extensive in fulfilling that interest. 

Reasoning

The ruling of the Supreme Court as indicated by Justice Powell indicated that the regulation that was enforced by the commission only restricted the commercial speech. The speech used solely to attain the interest of the speaker and the targeted audience.  The court indicated that the First Amendment related to the state through the Fourteenth Amendment seeks to protect commercial speech from unnecessary governmental regulation. On the basis of applying the First Amendment, the court rejected the highly paternalistic view that provided that the government had absolute powers in controlling commercial speech. The court however indicated that the Constitution offered less protection to commercial speech relative to other constitutional provided expressions. The two characteristics of commercial speech that made that Court agree to is regulation include; the commercia speakers are assumed to have extensive knowledge related their market and nature of their products; and that the First Amendment requires that restriction of speech be narrowly drawn. Here he government is required to ensure that the regulatory framework used is proportion to the interest being promoted. 

ReferenceCentral Hudson Gas & Elec. Corp. v. Public Serv. Comm’n of NY, 447 U.S. 557, 100 S. Ct. 2343, 65 L. Ed. 2d 341 (1980).

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