Virginia v. American Booksellers Association, Inc.

882 F. 2d 125 (4th Cir. 1989), aff’g in part and rev’g in part sub nom. Am. Booksellers Ass’n v. Strobel, 617 F. Supp. 699 (E.D. Va. 1985); vacated and remanded, 88 U.S. 905 (1988), certified questions answered, 372 S.E.2d 618 (Va. 1988), questions certified to Virginia Supreme Court, 484 U.S. 383 (1988)

Previous case names:
American Booksellers Association v. Strobel

Media Coalition filed a lawsuit on behalf of some of its members challenging a Virginia statute that limited where retailers can display materials harmful to minors. In 1988, the United States Supreme Court affirmed the plaintiffs’ standing to challenge the law absent the threat of prosecution. The United States Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit upheld the law, after the Virginia Supreme Court narrowed it to apply only to the display of materials that would be illegal for the oldest minors.

In 1985, Virginia enacted its minor access law that made it unlawful for any person “to knowingly display for commercial purpose in a manner whereby juveniles may examine and peruse” visual or written material that is “harmful to juveniles.”

This case was filed as American Booksellers Association, Inc. v. Strobel in the U.S. District Court in Virginia. In 1985, the court held [6] that the legislation violated the First Amendment, and its enforcement was enjoined.

The United States Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit [5] affirmed the decision. The state of Virginia filed a petition for cert, which was granted by the Supreme Court.

On January 25, 1988, the U.S. Supreme Court issued an opinion [4] affirming that plaintiffs had standing to bring the challenge. The Court did not rule on the constitutional issues in the case. Instead, it asked the Virginia Supreme Court to interpret provisions of Virginia’s display law. Justice William Brennan wrote the majority opinion of the Court. Justice John Paul Stevens wrote an opinion concurring in part and dissenting in part.

In response to questions certified by the United States Supreme Court, the Virginia Supreme Court narrowed [2] the state’s minors access law so that it applied only to the display of material that would be illegal for the oldest minors. The U.S. Supreme Court then vacated the judgment and remanded it to the 4th Circuit Court for further consideration given the Virginia Supreme Court’s definition.

In August 1989, the 4th Circuit Court upheld [1] the narrowed law.

American Booksellers Association, Association of American Publishers, Council for Periodical Distributors Association, International Periodical Distributors Association, National Association of College Stores, Books Unlimited, Ampersand Books, Amy Bush and Jessica Bush