PR groups file brief as Nike's free-speech case hits the High Court

BEAVERTON, OR: A number of PR organizations are joining forces to support Nike in its legal battle to protect its First Amendment rights.

BEAVERTON, OR: A number of PR organizations are joining forces to support Nike in its legal battle to protect its First Amendment rights.

Last week, Nike asked the US Supreme Court to review the California Supreme Court's May ruling that comments made by the company in a letter to the editor is commercial speech. Nike wrote the letter in response to criticism from activists about Nike's labor practices. The court ruled such speech must be held to the same legal standard as advertising, as it is intended to promote sales.

The court ruled 4-3 that a San Francisco man could sue Nike for statements made disputing workshop-condition accusations. The court's ruling could make such statements subject to regulations and lawsuits if others believe they contain misleading information.

The PRSA, the Council of PR Firms, the Arthur W. Page Society, the Public Affairs Council, and the Institute for Public Relations have joined to file a friend-of-the-court brief. This would allow the organizations to submit briefs to the court espousing the position of Nike even though the groups are not directly involved in the case.

"This is the first time in my career the PR industry has come together," said Kathy Cripps, president of the Council of PR Firms. "This is fantastic that the trade organizations are coming together."

The organizations had been criticized for apparently waiting too long before getting involved. But Paul Basista, executive director of the Arthur W. Page Society, said the organizations' stance wouldn't have been as meaningful in the past. Now that Nike is asking the Supreme Court to consider its appeal, the full weight of the PR and communications industry needs to be behind Nike now more than ever.

"At stake is our ability to do the kind of work we do in regard to public debate," asserted Cripps. "If the US Supreme Court does not hear this case, a lot of what we do will be considered commercial speech. This is possibly the most vital issue the industry is dealing with, and we needed to come together to defend our position."

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