Justices Side With Free-Speech Challenge to Credit Card Fees

Justices Side With Free-Speech Challenge to Credit Card Fees

Justices Side With Free-Speech Challenge to Credit Card Fees

As Featured on nytimes.com

The Supreme Court ruled on Wednesday that the First Amendment applies to a New York law concerning credit card fees.

The decision was a victory for five businesses that had sought to tell their customers that they imposed a surcharge for using credit cards. But the Supreme Court decided only that the law regulated their speech rather than their conduct, and it left it to an appeals court to determine whether the law violated the First Amendment.

“The law tells merchants nothing about the amount they are allowed to collect from a cash or credit card payer,” Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. wrote for the majority. “Sellers are free to charge $10 for cash and $9.70, $10, $10.30 or any other amount for credit. What the law does regulate is how sellers may communicate their prices.”

The case, Expressions Hair Design v. Schneiderman, No. 15-1391, is part of a long-running dispute between some merchants — who want to avoid fees charged by credit card companies by steering customers toward cash — and credit card companies, which seek to make the fees invisible to consumers.

The New York law, similar to ones in nine other states, bars merchants from imposing surcharges when their customers use credit cards. Credit card companies charge fees to merchants in the range of 2 to 3 percent, Chief Justice Roberts wrote.

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