In the case Bad Frog Brewery, Inc v. New York State Liquor Authority, who wins and why?

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Article VI of the Constitution of the United States is very clear in declaring that the Constitution is the supreme law of the land and that no state law can usurp it. That language reads as follows:

This Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made...

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Article VI of the Constitution of the United States is very clear in declaring that the Constitution is the supreme law of the land and that no state law can usurp it. That language reads as follows:

This Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in Pursuance thereof; and all Treaties made, or which shall be made, under the Authority of the United States, shall be the supreme Law of the Land; and the Judges in every State shall be bound thereby, any Thing in the Constitution or Laws of any state to the Contrary notwithstanding. (Emphasis added)

When the New York State Liquor Authority (NYSLA) ruled that the label on bottles of Bad Frog beer, which features a cartoon frog making what can only be interpreted as an obscene gesture, contravened local decency standards, it tread a little too heavily on the rights of the private sector to express itself. The Liquor Authority deemed the label offensive and inappropriate for a commercially sold item—an item sold in grocery stores where children would be able to view the cartoonish image. By ruling against the brewing company’s freedom to market its product, the NYSLA was walking on well-trodden ground on which governments, individuals, and organizations have long sought to impose their standards on society at large. That a federal district court upheld the NYSLA’s decision reflected the preference or tendency of some jurists to side with the notion of local standards of decency despite legal precedents suggesting otherwise. The US Court of Appeals, however, reversed the lower court’s decision because of those precedents.

The First Amendment to the Constitution guarantees freedom of speech. This freedom, as current political debates illustrate, is not always deemed absolute on the part of some individuals and organizations, and certain restraints on freedom of speech (most notably the oft-cited statement of Oliver Wendell Holmes regarding the legally questionable practice of yelling "fire" in a crowded theater) have been debated and even adjudicated. But the most recent and important Supreme Court decision on this issue, Brandenburg v. Ohio (1969), noticeably rejected such constraints on speech, setting the bar for inadmissible expression considerably higher:

Freedoms of speech and press do not permit a State to forbid advocacy of the use of force or of law violation except where such advocacy is directed to inciting or producing imminent lawless action and is likely to incite or produce such action.

When the US Court of Appeals overturned the lower court’s decision, it was reaffirming the primacy of federal law over that of the states. Because the US Supreme Court had decided in favor of fewer, rather than greater, restraints on speech in Brandenburg v. Ohio, and because of the Article VI affirmation of the Constitution’s primacy over state law, the NYSLA’s authority to regulate Bad Frog Brewery’s marketing practice was deemed impermissible.

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The case of Bad Frog Brewery, Inc. vs New York State Liquor Authority was decided at the state level in favor of the state of New York.  However, Bad Frog Brewery appealed the decision and in the U.S. Court of Appeals the judgement was in favor of Bad Frog Brewery.  The federal preemption was used to determine that Federal Law would supersede State Law in this case because the label of the Bad Frog product was not detrimental to children.  The Court of Appeals stated that the state of New York had no reasonable argument for the label being harmful to children when there was so much other harmful, or what could be considered obscene that children were exposed to daily.  The decision stated that barring an offensive label on beer would not significantly reduce a child's exposure to offensive media.

"A doctrine... of the U.S. Constitution that holds that certain matters are of such a national, as opposed to local, character that federal laws preempt or take precedence over state laws."

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