State Attorneys General v. Novelty Coffee Mugs

Following a letter from 22 state attorneys general, Urban Outfitters has agreed to stop selling a humorous mug with a “Prescription: Coffee” design. The AGs argued that prescription drug abuse is a very serious matter and not something to be joked about. [H/T Eugene Volokh]

The humor-impaired AGs participating (is yours on this list?) included those from Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Mississippi, Montana, New Mexico, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Utah, and Wyoming, as well as Guam. According to Maggie Thurber at Ohio Watchdog, “the Partnership at Drugfree.org went further and categorized [the mugs and related coasters and other trinkets] as ‘prescription drug paraphernalia products.’”

Aside from a few core functions such as defending their states in litigation and issuing legal opinions to guide state agencies, state attorneys general have far too much discretionary authority to butt into whatever controversial areas may suit their taste for popularity and political advancement, even when, as here, there is no evident basis to think that Urban Outfitters had violated any actual law. It seems highly unlikely that the novelty mugs send any particular message that undermines public respect for prescription drug laws, but if for some reason they did, they would be entitled to more protection against AG bullying, not less, since expressive objects that send a symbolic message of disrespect for government policy will often qualify for First Amendment protection.

Congratulations to the 28 AGs who resisted the temptation to join in this busybody intimidation.

[Cross-posted from Overlawyered]