A Disclosure-Focused Approach to Compelled Commercial Speech

In 2010, the Food and Drug Administration passed a rule revising compelled disclaimers on tobacco products pursuant to the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act. The rule required that tobacco warnings include something new: all tobacco products now had to bear one of nine graphic images to accompany the text. Tobacco companies filed suit contesting the constitutionality of the rule, arguing that the government violated their right to free commercial speech by compelling disclosure of the graphic content. Yet First Amendment jurisprudence lacks a doctrinally consistent standard for reviewing such compelled disclosures. Courts’ analyses typically depend on whether the regulation compels or restricts speech, how far that regulation extends, and why the government chose to regulate in the first place. This Note seeks to articulate a coherent standard-—a disclosure-focused approach—-for reviewing compelled commercial speech under the First Amendment. Under this disclosure-focused approach, courts would adopt a lenient standard of review for compelled disclosures of factual, uncontroversial information while reserving more exacting scrutiny for restricted speech or compelled ideological disclosures. This approach centers on the structure and content of the regulation rather than the governmental motive. Accordingly, the disclosure-focused approach aligns with the goal of commercial speech protection—-namely, maximizing the information available to consumers.