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Wine Spectator: Will The U.S. Supreme Court Upend Wine Laws Across The Nation?

January 14, 2019

The court case Tennessee Wine & Spirits Retailers Association (TWSRA) v. Zackary Blair et al, which will be heard before the Supreme Court on January 16, has the potential to change the way American consumers buy wine.

At the heart of it is a Tennessee law that requires liquor retailers to be residents of the state for a certain amount of time before getting and renewing a license. Is the law protected by the 21st Amendment, which has given states control over alcohol laws since Prohibition was repealed? Or does the law violate the Constitution’s Commerce Clause, which prevents states from erecting business barriers with other states?

Asserting the latter, national retail juggernaut Total Wine & More has decided to challenge Tennessee’s residency requirement, and in the process has triggered a court battle that could have potential ramifications well beyond the Volunteer State. A broad ruling by the court could challenge not only the residency requirement but also other barriers to interstate wine commerce, including bans on direct-to-consumer wine shipping by out-of-state retailers.

On one side, the TWSRA (the petitioner) will try to convince the justices to overturn the lower courts’ decision in favor of Total Wine. On the other, Total Wine and other respondents will ask them to sustain it. And then there are more than 20 other groups, including the governments of 35 states and a coalition of wine consumers, who have filed amicus briefs, arguments by interested parties, all arguing on various aspects of the case. Wine Spectator has a full report on the upcoming proceedings and what’s at stake.—Emma Balter

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