Florida Bar, Petitioner v. Went For It, Inc., and John T. Blakely,   No. 94-226 Supreme Court of The United States 515 U.S. 618; 115 S. Ct. 2371; 1995 U.S.

June 21, 1995, Decided

CORE TERMS: solicitation, advertising, regulation, direct-mail, profession, privacy, ban, targeted, First Amendment, mail, disaster, grief, intrusion, recipient, CONSTITUTIONAL LAW, tranquility, offensive, Federal Constitution's First Amendment, mailing, newspaper, materially, prong, tailored, overreaching, invasion, undue, narrowly, joined, referral, solicit

SUMMARY SENTENCE: Florida bar's 30-day ban on attorneys' targeted direct-mail solicitations to accident and disaster victims held not to violate free speech guarantee of Federal Constitution's First Amendment.

FACTS:

Two rules of the Florida Bar, taken together, forbade lawyers to send, directly or indirectly, targeted direct-mail solicitations of business to victims of an accident or disaster or to relatives of such victims during a 30-day period after the accident or disaster. The rules were adopted as a result of a 2-year study by the Florida Bar of the effects of lawyer advertising on public opinion. A Florida lawyer and his wholly owned lawyer referral service, challenging the rules, filed an action for declaratory and injunctive relief against the Florida Bar in the United States District Court for the Middle District of Florida.

The United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit, affirmed the lower courts findings and opined that the rules violated the First Amendment, as the rules could not be justified by an asserted government interest in protecting the privacy of recent injury victims or their family members.

On certiorari, the United States Supreme Court reversed.

In an opinion by O'Connor, J., joined by Rehnquist, Ch. J., and Scalia, Thomas, and Breyer, JJ., the Court held that the 30-day restriction withstood scrutiny under the test for determining the validity of a restriction on commercial speech as outlined by First Amendment doctrine because:

(1) the Florida Bar had asserted a substantial state interest in:

  1. protecting the privacy and tranquility of potential clients from commercial intrusion upon their personal grief, and
  2. preventing the outrage and irritation with the state-licensed legal profession that the practice of direct solicitation only days after accidents had engendered;

(2) evidence adduced by the bar was sufficient to establish that the restriction targeted a concrete harm; and

(3) the restriction was reasonably well tailored to its stated objective.

Kennedy, J., joined by Stevens, Souter, and Ginsburg, JJ., dissented, and expressed the view that

(1) restrictions on speech are not justified on the ground that the expression might offend the listener;

(2) direct solicitation by attorneys might serve vital purposes and promote the administration of justice;

(3) the evidence offered in support of the 30-day restriction did not demonstrate that the asserted harms were real;

(4) the restriction prohibited far more speech than necessary to serve the declared state interest; and

(5) the Constitution did not permit the state to promote the public image of the legal profession by suppressing information about the profession's business aspects.

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