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Wine Spectator: Supreme Court Opens Door To National Wine Retailer Shipping Challenges

June 28, 2019

Earlier this week the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed, in a 7-2 ruling, a lower court’s decision on Tennessee Wine and Spirits Retailers Association v. Russell F. Thomas (formerly v. Zackary Blair), striking down a durational-residency requirement for liquor retailers in Tennessee.

The majority opinion, delivered June 26 by Justice Samuel Alito, issued a strong defense of the Constitution’s Commerce Clause, claiming Tennessee’s law exists only for economic protectionism and is therefore unconstitutional. The interpretation opens the door for future challenges to discriminatory state alcohol laws, notably pertaining to retailer direct shipping.

This was the biggest case on wine since 2005’s Granholm v. Heald, which prohibits state wine-shipping laws from discriminating between in-state and out-of-state wineries. At the core of the petitioner’s main arguments in Tennessee Retailers was a claim that Granholm applied only to producers and products. The majority opinion disagreed.

“The Association presses the argument, echoed by the dissent, that a different rule applies to state laws that regulate in-state alcohol distribution. There is no sound basis for this distinction,” Alito wrote, adding, “And Granholm never said that its reading of history or its Commerce Clause analysis was limited to discrimination against products or producers. On the contrary, the Court stated that the Clause prohibits state discrimination against ‘all out-of-state economic interests.’” This is a crucial point for advocates of retailer direct shipping, who have been waiting for a case similar to Granholm that applies to retailers, not just producers. Wine Spectator has the full story. —Emma Balter

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