The Kentucky grocery store court decision

Which made interesting reading, even for those of us who haven ?t had a law class since the late 1970s. Federal judge John G. Heyburn II ruled that the that Kentucky law that prohibited grocery stores from selling liquor but that allowed drug stores to do so was unconstitutional. Heyburn wrote that it seemed kind of silly that ?a grocery-selling drugstore like Walgreens may sell wine and liquor, but a pharmaceutical-selling grocery store like Kroger cannot. ?

That ?s the good news for those who want to see wine sold in grocery stores in the 19 or so states where it ?s illegal. The bad news, as my pal and attorney Lou Bright (one of the top liquor lawyers in the country) told me, is that the decision will have almost no effect anywhere but in Kentucky, given how unique the state ?s law is.

In addition, Lou said, the distinction between which stores could sell liquor and which couldn ?t ?was drawn on a factor that didn ?t have anything to do with the sale of alcoholic beverages or any policy interest related to them. ? So the judge ?s decision was reasonably straightforward.

How often does that happen in liquor law?

3 thoughts on “The Kentucky grocery store court decision

  • By Tom Johnson - Reply

    It will be interesting to see if Kentucky’s reaction is to liberalize or restrict in reaction to this. When Granholm came down, the assumption was that states would relax their direct shipping laws. In Kentucky and a couple of other southern states, regulations were tightened instead. This made the laws Constitutional, since they did not discriminate, but caused unintended damage to local wineries dependent on direct shipping.
    In this case, it wouldn’t surprise me at all if Kentucky decided to ban drugstore sales of alcohol rather than allowing grocery store sales. There are powerful lobbies against grocery sales — not just Baptists, but also the existing distribution and sales infrastructure.
    A liquor store owner I know has no problem with direct shipping, but turns purple with rage in considering grocery store sales, which he considers an existential threat. He invested, he says, in a business under one set of laws, and changing those laws as drastically as allowing grocery store sales would destroy his investment. The whole tier of everyday wine that is his bread and butter — that keeps him in business so he can sell fine wines to relatively few customers — would disappear.
    The combination of neo-prohibitionists, liquor store owners, and specialty distributors who depend on fine wine sales is powerful. It may prevail at the state level, but even if it doesn’t it will triumph in most local jurisdictions.
    More than half of Kentucky’s counties allow no alcohol sales at all; of the remaining wet counties many will surely decide having alcohol as an impulse item at grocery store check-outs is the equivalent of allowing the Devil himself into their homes.
    When state courts set aside the statewide ban on Sunday sales a few years ago, all but two counties in the state continued the ban on a local level. There may be more counties that have since added themselves to that short, short list, but I’m thinking that’s the model of how grocery store sales are going to work. You’ll have grocery store sales in Louisville and Lexington, and every place else will just ban sales at drug stores — if they haven’t already.
    That’s how we do things in the commonwealth.

  • By Jeff Siegel - Reply

    Tom, you need to have your friend read my post about grocery store wine sales and dog food (https://www.winecurmudgeon.com/my_weblog/2012/07/wine-grocery-stores-and-dog-food.html). At the very least, it will give him someone else to complain about.
    I don’t doubt that the tightening of laws is a possibility, as it happened elsewhere after Granholm. The one thing I have learned about writing about this subject is just because something seems like it should happen, that doesn’t mean it will.

  • By Tom Wark - Reply

    Jeff:
    You are right. The Judge’s opinion really was an interesting, well-written read. Not all that common. Good ‘Ol Lew is probably correct in that this decision doesn’t have that much impact on other state’s laws.
    What was interesting too in the opinion is that the judge, after going back and looking through the legislative history for these laws, could actually find NO information on the origin of the distinction between drug stores and grocery stores.
    Good post.

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