Earlier this year, I wrote an article discussing how both consumers and business owners often have to deal with confusing laws and regulations in Indiana regarding the sale of cold beer. Having its genesis in the era of Prohibition, Indiana’s Liquor Control Act has been amended at numerous times and in various ways since 1935, with the result being that consumers can buy cold beer in various locations, but not at grocery stores or convenience stores.
The owners of those businesses (and, perhaps, many of their customers) want to change that, which led to the filing of a lawsuit in Federal Court in Indianapolis. In Indiana Petroleum Marketers and Convenience Store Association et al v. Huskey et al, a group representing convenience stores is suing to have a portion of Indiana’s alcoholic beverage laws ruled unconstitutional.
Specifically, they argue (among other things) that Indiana’s alcohol laws violate the “Equal Protection” and “Privileges and Immunities” provisions of the U.S. Constitution by treating grocery stores and convenience stores differently than other permit holders (like liquor stores) by not letting the beer dealer permit holders to sell cold beer, and that the law violates the “Due Process” Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution because it is too vague as to the meaning of “cooled” beer.
The United States District Court for the Southern District of Indiana conducted a two-day hearing on this lawsuit in February of this year, and in June issued a ruling rejecting those arguments. Regarding the plaintiffs’ contention that the cold beer law is vague, Chief Judge Richard Young referred to the low number of citations from the Indiana State Excise Police as proof that the stores know what the law permits. Regarding the equal protection claims, Young found that the State’s interest in limiting the sale of alcohol, especially to minors, justifies the restrictions on cold beer sales.
Indiana’s Attorney General, Greg Zoeller, opposed the lawsuit and said that if the law is to be changed, it should happen through the legislative process, not the courts.
The fight is not over. On July 15, the Indiana Petroleum Marketers and Convenience Store Association announced it was appealing Judge Young’s ruling to the next level, the Federal Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, located in Chicago. Its Executive Director, Scot Imus, stated in support of carrying on the fight that "Our members and the public understand Indiana's alcohol laws lack common-sense and we are asking the state and federal courts to put an end to this. . . . It is clear the monopoly liquor stores have limits consumer choice and hurts the growth of our state’s economy." The appeal is still pending and a ruling may not be issued until 2015.
Over time, laws change for a variety of reasons, including changing social beliefs, political landscapes and practical experiences. Will Indiana’s liquor laws continue to change, either through the courts or the political process? Stay tuned.