Monday, May 16, 2005

Rare But Always Fun 21st Amendment Jurisprudence

Toward the end of finals, a bloggers mind wanders toward nicer things . . . . like booze.

But look! A story uniting both present and future focuses: Court Strikes Down Ban on Wine Shipments.

At issue was the 21st Amendment, which ended Prohibition in 1933 and granted states authority to regulate alcohol sales. Nearly half the states subsequently passed laws requiring outside wineries to sell their products through licensed wholesalers within the state.

But the Constitution also prohibits states from passing laws that discriminate against out-of-state businesses. That led to a challenge to laws in Michigan and New York, which allow direct shipments for in-state wineries but not out-of-state ones.

In a dissent, Justice Clarence Thomas argued that the ruling needlessly overturns long-established regulations aimed partly at protecting minors. State regulators under the 21st Amendment have clear authority to regulate alcohol as the see fit, he wrote.

"The court does this nation no service by ignoring the textual commands of the Constitution and acts of Congress," Thomas wrote.

He was joined in his opinion by Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist, as well as Justices Sandra Day O'Connor and John Paul Stevens.

While the ruling only involves wine sales, industry groups expect that it will soon apply to beer and other alcoholic beverages currently regulated through state-licensed wholesalers and retailers.

In the ruling, Kennedy wrote that states do not have the authority to regulate liquor simply to protect their economic interests.

The decision puts in doubt laws in 24 states that ban out-of-state shipments, although the opinion suggests the laws will be upheld so long as in-state and out-of-state wineries are treated equally.
Wow, Stevens, strange bedfellows on this opinion. And c'mon dissent - protection of minors? Sure, that's sort of a side bonus, but it's a rather tortured construction when no matter what the briefs say, it's fairly obvious that the purpose is economic protectionism. Legislators, open your Con Law I casebooks, please . . . .

Big day for little wineries everywhere.


Anonymous said...

Is this the kind of thing we get when we have doctors who become legislators? Perhaps they haven't read their Con Law texts.

Anonymous said...

This is just great news. Napa, Sonoma, New Jersey!