Sixth Circuit Oral Argument: Is Ohio’s “Precious Metals Dealer Act” Constitutional?

Court considers whether to protect Ohio business owners’ right to advertise and sustain invalidation of burdensome regulation of coin dealers

Cincinnati, OH – The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals heard oral arguments on the constitutionality of the Ohio Precious Metal Dealer Act, which imposes strict limits on precious metals purchasers and businesses in Ohio.

Through vigorous enforcement of the Act, the Ohio Department of Commerce had threatened to shut down many Ohio small businesses. However, the Act was enjoined in its entirety by a federal court in December of 2012.

The ruling, made by Judge Watson of the Columbus division of the Southern District of Ohio, paved the way for Ohio businesses, most prominently coin dealers, to resume purchases of items containing gold and silver content, and in particular, to resume advertising their interest in purchasing inventory consisting of precious metals, free from concern over confiscatory prosecution, fines and regulations.

The legal action was brought by the 1851 Center for Constitutional Law on behalf of Liberty Coins, a Delaware, Ohio coin dealer ordered by Commerce to cease all advertising indicating that it purchases gold and silver and all actual purchases of gold and silver, and threatened with a $10,000 fine and jail time if it does not comply.

The 1851 Center continues to defend Liberty Coins’ right to do business against Attorney General Mike DeWine’s appeal. And the case has since gained national attention, with the Washington D.C.-based Institute for Justice and Sacramento-based Pacific Legal Foundation weighing in with Amicus Briefs defending Liberty Coins and attacking the Act’s lawfulness.

“This Act and those enforcing it have treated small businesses who make gold and silver available as public utilities at best, and criminals at worst, irrespective of whether they have done harm,” according to Maurice Thompson, Executive Director of the 1851 Center.

Thompson added “the state misguidedly seeks to advance its mission of ‘preventing theft and resale of precious metals’ through gag orders, warrantless searches, and criminalization of innocent small businesses. Fortunately, the First Amendment allows us to protect Ohioans’ rights to engage in truthful promotion of their businesses, and this case demonstrates promise for a powerful new method of enforcing constitutional limits on onerous state and federal regulations.”

The Supreme Court has repeatedly confirmed that First Amendment applies to “commercial speech,” which includes advertising. Nevertheless, Commerce, after vigorous lobbying and political contributions made by the pawnbrokers industry, which is a direct competitor of those who are subject to the Act, had begun vigorous enforcement of regulations prohibiting coin dealers from advertising without a license, and requiring a license and payment of steep fine if they had previously advertised (licenses are conditioned on a state finding of “good character and reputation”). Once licensed, state and local agents were empowered to search and seize any item or business record without a search warrant or finding of probable cause.

Listen to the archived oral argument, HERE.

Read the Appellate Briefs HERE.

Read the Amicus Briefs on behalf of Liberty Coins from the Institute for Justice HERE and Pacific Legal Foundation HERE.

October 12, 2013: Coin shop challenges Ohio law as free speech ban

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