Private Liquor Prevails At Supreme Court, Barely

The Supremes put the pen to the paper, rule in favor of liquor privatization.


Wow, a 5-4 vote! I’m somewhat of a nerd when it comes to legal debates before the Washington Supreme Court. These days, a 5-4 split is extremely rare. But that is exactly how the High Court decided whether the liquor privatization initiative (I-1183) was constitutional. Today, liquor license purchasers can cheer.


I just got word of the ruling and have yet to have the time to digest it. But, the ruling is so incredibly important to this state’s liquor industry that I thought it was important to get it up. Besides, Michael Reitz of The Supreme Court of Washington Blog, is a wonderful blogger that always hits the mark. He published a report of the ruling today and here is a good snippet of how it went down:


The majority was written by Justice Steven Gonzalez, who was appointed to the Supreme Court last year by Gov. Chris Gregoire. Justice Gonzalez wrote that the title of I-1183 was a general title, pertaining to the broad subject of “liquor.” The court held that the individual sections of the initiative were a rationally related to each other—including a $10 million earmark for local governments for public safety needs. The court also held that the voters of Washington were not misled by the initiative’s use of the word “fees” to describe the licensing fees the retailers will pay. (Challengers had argued that the fee is actually a tax and that voters would not have approved a new tax if it were described that way.)

Justice Wiggins filed a dissent, joined by three other justices. He wrote that the I-1183 drafters misled voters by describing the licensing fees as “fees” rather than “taxes.”


So, there you have it. The Court decided that the broad term of “liquor” encompassed an number of topics that are regulated by the change in law. This paves the way for the turnover of state liquor stores, which will end operation after today.



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