Bigelow v. Virginia - Wikipedia

Bigelow v. Commonwealth of Virginia
Argued December 18, 1974
Decided June 16, 1975
Full case nameBigelow v. Commonwealth of Virginia
Citations421 U.S. 809 (more)
95 S. Ct. 2222; 44 L. Ed. 2d 600; 1975 U.S. LEXIS 73; 1 Media L. Rep. 1919
Case history
PriorConviction upheld by Virginia Supreme Court, 213 Va. 191, 191 S.E. 2d 173 (1972).
The First Amendment prevents states from prohibiting advertisements of clearly legal products or conduct.
Court membership
Chief Justice
Warren E. Burger
Associate Justices
William O. Douglas · William J. Brennan Jr.
Potter Stewart · Byron White
Thurgood Marshall · Harry Blackmun
Lewis F. Powell Jr. · William Rehnquist
Case opinions
MajorityBlackmun, joined by Burger, Douglas, Brennan, Stewart, Marshall, Powell
DissentRehnquist, joined by White
Laws applied
U.S. Const., Amends. I and XIV

Bigelow v. Commonwealth of Virginia, 421 U.S. 809 (1975), was a United States Supreme Court case that established First Amendment protection for advertising.[1]


Court precedents had long considered advertising mere "commercial speech," giving it little, if any, protection under the First Amendment.[2]

In 1972, the American Civil Liberties Union filed a Supreme Court appeal on behalf of a newspaper editor in Charlottesville, Virginia who had published an advertisement for an abortion referral service in New York (where abortion was legal).[3] Virginia charged the editor, Jeffrey C. Bigelow, with violating a state law that made it a crime to encourage abortions via lectures, advertisements, or any other manner.[4] Bigelow was convicted and fined; the Virginia Supreme Court affirmed his conviction, rejecting his First Amendment challenge by pointing to the lowered protections on commercial advertisements.[4]

Roe v. Wade was pending when Bigelow's appeal first reached the Supreme Court, leading the justices to defer action.[4] After Roe was decided, the justices remanded Bigelow to Virginia, but the state court reaffirmed Bigelow's conviction; Bigelow filed a new appeal to the Supreme Court.[4]

Opinion of the Court[edit]

The decision was announced June 16, 1975.[5] Justices William Rehnquist and Byron White cast the only votes to uphold the conviction.[6] Justice Blackmun wrote the majority opinion, and was joined by Chief Justice Warren E. Burger and Justices Thurgood Marshall, Potter Stewart, William Brennan, William O. Douglas, and Lewis Powell.[7]

Justice Harry Blackmun wrote that the First Amendment "should prevent states from prohibiting advertisements of products or conduct that is clearly legal at the place advertised."[4] The Court also noted the political nature of abortion and its status as a constitutionally protected fundamental right.[8]

Subsequent developments[edit]

Bigelow was used as precedent in a case in the 1975 term of the Court.[5] In Virginia State Board of Pharmacy v. Virginia Citizens Consumer Council, Blackmun struck down a state law that prohibited pharmacists from advertising the prices of prescription drugs.[5] Justice William Rehnquist was the only dissenter.[9]


  1. ^ Greenhouse, Linda. Becoming Justice Blackmun. Times Books. 2005. Page 119.
  2. ^ Greenhouse, Linda. Becoming Justice Blackmun. Times Books. 2005. Page 116.
  3. ^ Greenhouse, Pages 116-117
  4. ^ a b c d e Greenhouse, Page 117
  5. ^ a b c Greenhouse, Page 119
  6. ^ Greenhouse, Pages 117-118
  7. ^ Greenhouse, Page 118
  8. ^ Bigelow, 421 U.S. at 822.
  9. ^ Greenhouse, Page 120

External links[edit]

  • Text of Bigelow v. Commonwealth of Virginia, 421 U.S. 809 (1975) is available from: Findlaw  Justia