Some student reporters may be planning to pop some champagne open!

Student newspapers in Virginia just scored both a First Amendment victory and a financial win with an appeals court’s reversal of ban on alcohol advertisements.

Two major student newspapers in Virginia will be allowed to publish advertisements for alcohol brands and products after all, after a federal appeals court ruled that a state law banning the practice infringed on their First Amendment rights.

The decision by a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit is the latest development in a seven-year quest by the papers and the American Civil Liberties Union to overturn the Virginia Alcoholic Beverage Control Board’s rule, which forbade student newspapers from publishing any ads for alcoholic beverages, unless they were for a restaurant.

The court zeroed in on the difference between the Commonwealth of Virginia’s stated aim – to combat underage and abusive drinking on college campuses – with the papers’ readership. The law singled out student papers specifically because they purportedly cater to an underage population, but the majority of readers of both papers that won the lawsuit – The Cavalier Daily at the University of Virginia and The Collegiate Times at Virginia Tech University – are over the age of 21.

“In a lot of ways, it was really a relic of bygone days, and it’s good to see that it’s been swept into history,” said Frank LoMonte, executive director of the Student Press Law Center (a plaintiff in the case), adding that the ban included certain words in reference to types of drinks, like “highball.”

“There’s just no shortage of alternative outlets, especially on the Internet, where students can find out what to drink and where to drink,” LoMonte said. “You couldn’t have a regulation that singles out only the college media and selectively bans only a product that’s legal for their readers to use.”

At a time when student papers are seeing their budgets shrink just as the professional ones are, these sorts of laws (at least two states — Utah and New Hampshire — still have them on the books) can have a significant effect on independent publications that rely solely on advertising as their primary revenue stream. That is the case at both the Cavalier Daily and the Collegiate Times (and in fact, the latter subsidizes other student media through its revenue).