Bolger v. Youngs Drug Products Corp.

463 U.S. 60 (1983)

Quick Summary

Youngs Drug Products Corp. (plaintiff), the Supreme Court faced a dispute where Youngs Drug Products Corp., a contraceptive manufacturer, challenged a prohibition on unsolicited contraceptive mailings against Bolger (defendant), representing the Postal Service.

The issue was whether this prohibition violated the First Amendment. The Court concluded that while commercial speech can be regulated, it is protected under the First Amendment, leading to an affirmation that the statute in question was unconstitutional.

Facts of the Case

Youngs Drug Products Corp. (plaintiff), a manufacturer and distributor of contraceptives, initiated an advertising campaign to promote its products. This campaign included unsolicited mass mailings of advertisements and informational pamphlets about contraceptives to the public.

The Postal Service, with Bolger as the representing official (defendant), warned that such mailings were in violation of Title 39 U.S.C. §3001(e)(2), which prohibited the unsolicited mailing of contraceptive advertisements. Youngs Drug Products Corp., challenging the constitutionality of this statute, sought legal recourse to prevent the Postal Service from enforcing the prohibition.

They argued that this law was a violation of their First Amendment right to free speech. The dispute centered around whether the government could restrict the company’s ability to communicate about contraceptives through unsolicited mailings.

Procedural Posture and History

  1. Youngs Drug Products Corp. began an unsolicited mailing campaign for contraceptive advertisements.
  2. The Postal Service warned that this violated Title 39 U.S.C. §3001(e)(2).
  3. Youngs Drug Products Corp. filed suit seeking to enjoin enforcement of the statute.
  4. The District Court ruled in favor of Youngs Drug Products Corp., holding that the statute violated the First Amendment.
  5. Bolger, representing the Postal Service, appealed to the Supreme Court of the United States.

I.R.A.C. Format


Whether Title 39 U.S.C. §3001(e)(2), which prohibits the unsolicited mailing of contraceptive advertisements, violates the First Amendment’s protection of commercial speech.

Rule of Law

The constitutional protection afforded to commercial speech is less than that given to other forms of expression, yet commercial speech concerning lawful activity and not misleading is entitled to substantial protection under the First Amendment.

Reasoning and Analysis

The Supreme Court identified that while commercial speech is subject to regulation, it still enjoys protection under the First Amendment if it concerns lawful activities and is not misleading. The Court found that Youngs Drug Products Corp.’s mailings were indeed commercial speech but also addressed important public issues like family planning and disease prevention.

The ruling determined that the government’s interests in preventing offense and aiding parental control did not justify a broad suppression of truthful commercial information. The Court reasoned that adults should not be deprived of suitable materials because they are also accessible to children, and that less restrictive means were available to protect individual sensibilities and parental prerogatives without infringing on constitutional rights.


The Supreme Court affirmed the District Court’s decision, ruling that Title 39 U.S.C. §3001(e)(2) was unconstitutional as applied to Youngs Drug Products Corp.’s mailings, as it violated the First Amendment’s protection of commercial speech.

Key Takeaways

  1. Commercial speech is protected under the First Amendment when it pertains to lawful activities and is not misleading.
  2. The government cannot broadly suppress commercial speech to protect individuals from potentially offensive materials or to aid parental control in sensitive subjects.
  3. Adults cannot be restricted to only receiving communications deemed suitable for children.

Relevant FAQs of this case

What criteria determine whether speech is considered commercial under the First Amendment?

Speech is deemed commercial if it primarily proposes a commercial transaction. This includes advertising, offering for sale, or promoting a product or service to potential buyers.

  • For example: A billboard advertising a new soft drink flavor is commercial speech because it aims to encourage consumers to purchase the product.

How does the First Amendment protect non-misleading commercial speech concerning lawful activities?

Non-misleading commercial speech concerning lawful activities is protected under the First Amendment, meaning the government has limited power to regulate it unless it serves a substantial governmental interest and does so in a way that directly advances that interest and is no more extensive than necessary.

  • For example: A magazine advert for an FDA-approved drug is protected; regulations concerning this speech must be narrowly tailored to a legitimate public interest like health or safety.

Under what circumstances can the government regulate or restrict commercial speech?

The government can regulate or restrict commercial speech if the speech is misleading, related to illegal activity, or if there’s a substantial governmental interest at stake, such as public health or consumer protection, provided the regulation directly advances that interest and is narrowly tailored.

  • For example: Restrictions on cigarette advertising near schools are permissible as they aim to protect children from harm and promote public health.


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