APPEAL FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE EASTERN DISTRICT OF TEXAS.
Powell, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Burger, C. J., and Brennan, Stewart, White, Rehnquist, and Stevens, JJ., joined, and in Part III of which Marshall and Blackmun, JJ., joined. Blackmun, J., filed an opinion concurring in part and dissenting in part, in which Marshall, J., joined, post, p. 19.
MR. JUSTICE POWELL delivered the opinion of the Court.
Texas law prohibits the practice of optometry under a trade name. It also requires that four of the six members of the State's regulatory board, the Texas Optometry Board, be members of the Texas Optometric Association, a professional organization of optometrists. A three-judge District Court sustained the constitutionality of the statute governing the composition of the Texas Optometry Board against a challenge based on the First and Fourteenth Amendments. But it held that the prohibition of the practice of optometry under a trade name ran afoul of First Amendment protection of commercial speech. 438 F.Supp. 428 (ED Tex. 1977). These appeals and the cross-appeal bring both of the District Court's holdings before the Court.*fn1
The Texas Legislature approved the Texas Optometry Act (Act) in 1969, repealing an earlier law governing the practice of optometry in the State. Section 2.01 of the Act establishes the Texas Optometry Board (Board) and § 2.02 prescribes the qualifications for Board members.*fn2 The Board
is responsible for the administration of the Act, and has the authority to grant, renew, suspend, and revoke licenses to practice optometry in the State.*fn3 The Act imposes numerous regulations on the practice of optometry,*fn4 and on several aspects of the business of optometry.*fn5 Many of the Act's business regulations are contained in § 5.13, which restricts fee splitting by optometrists and forbids an optometrist to allow his name to be associated with any optometrical office
unless he is present and practicing there at least half of the hours that the office is open or half of the hours that he practices, whichever is less. Section 5.13 (d), at issue here, prohibits the practice of optometry under an assumed name, trade name, or corporate name.*fn6
The dispute in this case grows out of the schism between "professional" and "commercial" optometrists in Texas. Although all optometrists in the State must meet the same licensing requirements and are subject to the same laws regulating their practices, they have divided themselves informally into two groups according to their divergent approaches to the practice of optometry.*fn7 Rogers, an advocate of the commercial
practice of optometry and a member of the Board, commenced this action by filing a suit against the other five members of the Board. He sought declaratory and injunctive relief from the enforcement of § 2.02 of the Act, prescribing the composition of the Board, and § 5.13 (d) of the Act, prohibiting the practice of optometry under a trade name.
Section 2.02 of the Act requires that four of the six members of the Board must be members of a state organization affiliated with the American Optometric Association (AOA). The only such organization is the Texas Optometric Association (TOA), membership in which is restricted to optometrists who comply with the Code of Ethics of the AOA. Rogers and his fellow commercial optometrists are ineligible for membership in TOA because their business methods are at odds with the AOA Code of Ethics. In his complaint, Rogers alleged that he is deprived of equal protection and due process because he is eligible for only two of the six seats on the Board, and because he is subject to regulation by a Board composed primarily of members of the professional faction. Regarding § 5.13 (d), Rogers alleged that while the section prohibits optometrists from practicing under trade names, the prohibition is not extended to ophthalmologists. Rogers claimed that this disparity of treatment denies him the equal protection of the laws, as he is denied the right to conduct his optometrical practice as he has in the past under the name "Texas State Optical."
The three-judge District Court that was convened to consider Rogers' challenge to the constitutionality of the Texas law granted two motions to intervene. The TOA intervened as a defendant, adopting without alteration the position taken by the individual members of the Board whom Rogers originally named as defendants. The Texas Senior Citizens
Association (TSCA) intervened on behalf of Rogers. This intervenor claimed that its members have a Fourteenth Amendment right to representation of the general public on the Board, and that because § 2.02 subjects "commercial" optometrists to regulation by "professional" optometrists, the statute discourages optometrists from communicating truthful commercial information to TSCA members. The TSCA also urged that the prohibition of the practice of optometry under a trade name violates the First Amendment right of its members to receive information about the availability of optometrical services.
The District Court found that § 2.02 is related reasonably to the State's purpose of ensuring enforcement of the Act and therefore constitutional under the Equal Protection Clause. As to the claim that a Board dominated by professional optometrists would treat commercial optometrists unfairly, the District Court held that any claim that non-TOA members did not receive due process when called before the Board could be settled when and if the problem arose.*fn8 Concluding that the proffered justifications for § 5.13 (d) were outweighed by the importance of the commercial speech in question, the District Court held § 5.13 (d) unconstitutional and enjoined its enforcement by the Board.
In No. 77-1164, Rogers and the TSCA appeal from the District Court's decision upholding the constitutionality of § 2.02. In Nos. 77-1163 and 77-1186, the members of the Board other than Rogers, and the TOA, respectively, appeal from the decision striking down § 5.13 (d) as unconstitutional. We noted probable jurisdiction, 435 U.S. 967, and now affirm the decision in No. 77-1164 and reverse in Nos. 77-1163 and 77-1186.
In holding that § 5.13 (d) infringes First Amendment rights, the District Court relied primarily on this Court's decisions in Bates v. State Bar of Arizona, 433 U.S. 350 (1977), and Virginia Pharmacy Board v. Virginia Citizens Consumer Council, 425 U.S. 748 (1976). A trade name is a form of advertising, it concluded, because after the name has been used for some time, people "identify the name with a certain quality of service and goods." It found specifically "that the Texas State Optical [TSO] name has come to communicate to the consuming public information as to certain standards of price and quality, and availability of particular routine services," and rejected the argument that the TSO name misleads the public as to the identity of the optometrists with whom it deals. Balancing the constitutional interests in the commercial speech in question against the State's interest in regulating it, the District Court held that the prohibition of the use of trade names by § 5.13 (d) is an unconstitutional restriction of the "free flow of commercial information." 438 F.Supp., at 431.
A review of Virginia Pharmacy and Bates shows that the reliance on them by the court below, a reliance reasserted here by Rogers and the TSCA (the plaintiffs), was misplaced. At issue in Virginia Pharmacy was the validity of Virginia's law preventing advertising by pharmacists of the prices of prescription drugs. After establishing that the economic nature of the pharmacists' interest in the speech did not preclude First Amendment protection for their advertisements, the Court discussed the other interests in the advertisements that warranted First Amendment protection. To individual consumers, information about prices of prescription drugs at competing pharmacies "could mean the alleviation of physical pain or the enjoyment of basic necessities." 425 U.S., at 764. Society also has a strong interest in the free flow of commercial
information, both because the efficient allocation of resources depends upon informed consumer choices and because "even an individual advertisement, though entirely 'commercial,' may be of general public interest." Ibid. The Court acknowledged the important interest of the State in maintaining high standards among pharmacists, but concluded that this interest could not justify the ban on truthful price advertising when weighed against the First Amendment interests in the information conveyed.
In the next Term, the Court applied the rationale of Virginia Pharmacy to the advertising of certain information by lawyers. After weighing the First Amendment interests identified in Virginia Pharmacy against the State's interests in regulating the speech in question, the Court concluded that the truthful advertising of prices at which routine legal services will be performed also is protected by the First Amendment. Bates v. State Bar of Arizona, supra.
In both Virginia Pharmacy and Bates, we were careful to emphasize that "[some] forms of commercial speech regulation are surely permissible." Virginia Pharmacy, supra, at 770; accord, Bates, supra, at 383. For example, restrictions on the time, place, or manner of expression are permissible provided that "they are justified without reference to the content of the regulated speech, that they serve a significant governmental interest, and that in so doing they leave open ample alternative channels for communication of the information." Virginia Pharmacy, supra, at 771. Equally permissible are restrictions on false, deceptive, and misleading commercial speech.
"Untruthful speech, commercial or otherwise, has never been protected for its own sake. Gertz v. Robert Welch, Inc., 418 U.S. 323, 340 (1974); Konigsberg v. State Bar, 366 U.S. 36, 49, and n. 10 (1961). Obviously, much commercial speech is not provably false, or ...