Tennessee Liquor Law That Barred Outsiders From Market Struck Down

June 26, 2019 by Dan McCue
The bar on the Columbia Firehouse restaurant, Alexandria, Va. (Photo by Dan McCue)

WASHINGTON – The U.S. Supreme Court struck down a Tennessee law Wednesday that requires an individual to live in the state for at least two years to be eligible for a license to sell liquor.

At issue in the case was the authority granted to states to regulate alcohol sales by the 21st Amendment, which repealed Prohibition in the United States in late 1933, and the constitutional principle that only Congress, not the states, can regulate interstate commerce.

Writing for the majority in the 7-2 ruling, Justice Samuel Alito Jr. said that while states have considerable latitude when it comes to regulating the sale of alcohol, they can’t discriminate against out-of-state interests.

“The predominant effect of the 2-year resi­dency requirement is simply to protect the Association’s members from out-of-state competition. We therefore hold that this provision violates the Commerce Clause and is not saved by the Twenty-first Amendment,” Alito wrote.

The ruling reaffirmed what the justice called the “negative aspect of the Commerce Clause.”

Also known as the “dormant” Commerce Clause, it prevents the states from adopting protectionist measures, thereby preserving a national market for goods and services.

“But the proposition that the Commerce Clause by its own force restricts state protectionism is deeply rooted in our case law,” Alito said.

Here, the justice appeared to raise some qualms in his own mind with how protectionism should be dealt with in the Constitution. In a footnote, Alito suggests that the dormant Commerce Clause isn’t necessarily a good idea, and that the principle of non-protectionism should be rooted in other clauses.

“But one way or the other, it would grossly distort the Constitution to hold that it provides no protection against a broad swath of state protectionist measures. Even at the time of the adoption of the Constitution, it would have been asking a lot to require that Congress pass a law striking down every protectionist measure that a State or unit of local government chose to enact,” the footnote says in part.

In the end, however, and getting back to the main test of the ruling, Alito concluded, “without the dormant Commerce Clause, we would be left with a constitutional scheme that those who framed and ratified the Constitution would surely find surprising.”

For all this rumination, Justice Neil Gorsuch, simply disagreed, holding in dissent in which he was joined by Justice Clarence Thomas, that the 21st Amendment left the regulation of alcohol to the states.

“Alcohol occupies a complicated place in this country’s history,” Gorsuch wrote. “Some of the founders were enthusiasts; Benjamin Franklin thought wine was ‘proof that God loves us.’  Many in the Prohibition era were decidedly less enamored; they saw ‘liquor [a]s a lawlessness unto itself.’ Over time, the people have adopted two separate constitutional Amendments to adjust and then readjust alcohol’s role in our society.

“But through it all, one thing has always held true: States may impose residency requirements on those who seek to sell alcohol within their borders to ensure that retailers comply with local laws and norms,” the justice continued. “In fact, States have enacted residency requirements for at least 150 years, and the Tennessee law at issue before us has stood since 1939. Today and for the first time, the Court claims to have discovered a duty and power to strike down laws like these as unconstitutional. Respectfully, I do not see it.”

The underlying lawsuit was filed after the Tennessee Wine and Spirits Retailers Association opposed the issuance of licenses to Doug and Mary Ketchum, who moved to Tennessee from Utah, and the national chain Total Wine Spirits Beer & More for a store in Knoxville, Tennessee.

The Ketchums moved to Tennessee because the climate was beneficial to their daughter, who has cerebral palsy.

Initially, two state statutes were the focus of the lawsuit. The first imposed a requirement of two years of residency before obtaining a license, while the second required 10 years of residence in Tennessee before a liquor license can be renewed.

Both residency provisions were struck down by lower courts, and the retailers’ association dropped its defense of the longer requirement.

The association argued that having people in the state for two years made it easier for authorities to do background checks and seize a liquor seller’s financial assets if necessary.

Thirty-five states and the District of Columbia backed the retailers’ association.

The case is Tennessee Wine and Spirits Retailers Association v. Thomas, No. 18-96.

Supreme Court

Trump Picks Judge Amy Coney Barrett for Supreme Court
Supreme Court
Trump Picks Judge Amy Coney Barrett for Supreme Court
September 25, 2020
by Dan McCue

WASHINGTON - President Donald Trump will announce Saturday that he plans to nominate U.S. Appeals Court Judge Amy Comey Barrett to replace the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg on the Supreme Court. According to the White House, Trump will make the formal announcement at 5 p.m.... Read More

Schumer Seeks to Block Supreme Court Replacement Before Election Day
Supreme Court
Schumer Seeks to Block Supreme Court Replacement Before Election Day

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer accused the GOP of hypocritically trashing precedent to quickly transform the top court into a right-wing bulwark against the liberal values the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg fought for. “They are fighting to reverse Justice Ginsburg’s legacy, not honor it,” the... Read More

Trump Wants New Justice to be Able to Decide 2020 Election
Supreme Court
Trump Wants New Justice to be Able to Decide 2020 Election

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump, trailing in public polling and lagging in fundraising, wants a new Supreme Court justice confirmed before the election to be able to break potential ties on the court over election litigation. “In terms of time, we can go to January 20th,... Read More

Democrats Propose New Restraints on White House Aimed at Trump
Political News
Democrats Propose New Restraints on White House Aimed at Trump

WASHINGTON — House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other top Democrats on Wednesday rolled out a sweeping draft package of reforms they say would prevent future presidential abuses of power and more effectively combat foreign interference in U.S. elections. The late congressional session package ranges from bills... Read More

Thousands Gather to Remember Ginsburg as Justice and American Icon
Supreme Court
Thousands Gather to Remember Ginsburg as Justice and American Icon
September 23, 2020
by Dan McCue

WASHINGTON - The crowd began gathering early behind the aluminum railing that ran up and down East Capitol Street Wednesday morning. Some said they'd journeyed to the neighborhood the night before to scope out their logistics for the day ahead. One woman, wearing a facemask covered... Read More

Supreme Court Expected to Forge Ahead With Eight Justices After Ginsburg’s Death
Supreme Court
Supreme Court Expected to Forge Ahead With Eight Justices After Ginsburg’s Death

WASHINGTON — A shorthanded Supreme Court can move forward as usual with the slate of oral arguments already set for the first few months of its new term that starts in October, but having only eight members changes how they might be decided. Among the potentially... Read More

News From The Well
scroll top