****Reiser Legal is not licensed to practice law in Indiana and we cannot provide legal advice with regard to its law. But from time to time we like to comment on things happening to brewers around the globe! So here is some of our feelings on a recent case.****
Today’s the last day of a two-day trial in Indiana over rights to sell cold beer in convenience stores. For those not familiar with the state’s alcohol laws, which are among the country’s most restrictive, Indiana allows cold beer sales from traditional package stores and, to a limited extent, breweries themselves. However, grocery stores and convenience stores are prohibited from selling cold beer. This past year, the Indiana Petroleum Marketers and Convenience Store Association filed a federal lawsuit, alleging that Indiana’s laws were unconstitutional. You can read their complaint here.
We’ll see what the Southern District of Indiana does with the case, but from our perspective, the court is likely to uphold Indiana’s laws (even if they do seem a little outdated). In fact, we’re wondering if the whole lawsuit was a roundabout way for convenience stores to persuade the legislature to bite the bullet and make changes this session—but no bill has been introduced that would affect the laws at issue here.
Although Indiana’s laws may not create an ideal business climate for convenience store operators, or grocery stores for that matter, they just don’t involve the kind of disparate treatment the Constitution is concerned about preventing. Notably, the convenience stores are not challenging the law on dormant commerce clause grounds. They couldn’t, in that Indiana’s law here is discriminating against in-state commercial interests, not out-of-state interests. Rather, the lawsuit is all about the Equal Protection clause of the 14th Amendment, and similar protections built into Indiana’s Constitution.
The convenience stores essentially have the difficult task of persuading the court that the cold beer laws are wholly unrelated in any rational way to a legitimate state interest. The trouble is, the law seems to meet this low threshold, at least from a federal perspective. Limiting access to alcohol by structuring the alcohol market, and even completely prohibiting in-state sales of alcohol, are all within a state’s core concerns and protections under the 21st Amendment. Even absent the additional insulation the 21st Amendment gives states, it’s hard to say that eliminating sales of readily drinkable beer at gas stations—sold directly to drivers—is not rationally related to the state’s legitimate interest in keeping intoxicated drivers off the roads.
Whether we all think the law is outdated is immaterial. We’re sure loads of Indiana consumers would be happy to pick up a case of cold beer during a quick grocery store run (on a Sunday for that matter, but we’ll leave Indiana’s restrictive Sunday laws alone for today). Case outcome aside, what will prove really interesting is a read through the various Amici Curiae briefs filed in this case, revealing the positions of some of the most vocal lobbying groups in the state, including package stores. We’ll report back later as the case progresses.