Federal Judge Strikes Down Prohibition-Era Restrictions on Alcohol Sales in Kentucky

Wednesday, August 15th, 2012

Jack Brammer writes:

A federal judge ruled Tuesday that a Kentucky law prohibiting grocery and convenience stores from selling wine and distilled spirits is unconstitutional.

U.S. District Judge John G. Heyburn II of Louisville ruled that the state law “violates the U.S. Constitution’s Equal Protection Clause in that it prohibits certain grocery stores, gas stations and others … from obtaining a license to sell package liquor and wine.”

In Kentucky locations where alcohol sales are allowed, beer — but not wine or spirits — may be sold in grocery stores. Grocery stores, however, may get a license to sell wine and liquor if they provide a separate entrance to that part of the store, where minors are not allowed to work. A store employee of legal age also is required to conduct beer sales.

Such requirements do not apply to drug stores.

“You can walk into a large CVS or Walgreen’s and they can have as many groceries to sell as many grocery stores do. Yet they can sell alcoholic beverages in the store while a grocery cannot,” said Steve Pitt, a Louisville attorney who represents Maxwell’s Pic-Pac, Inc. and the Food and Wine Coalition in their civil lawsuit against the state Alcoholic Beverage Control.

If it stands, the ruling could swamp the state with license applications from grocery stores, convenience stores and gas stations that want to sell liquor and wine.

The judge wrote in his 29-page order that there is little difference today between grocery stores and drug stores.

Pitt said the ruling will allow more convenience for consumers, especially those who shop in grocery stores. He noted that the ruling does not affect businesses in a dry county that prohibits the sale of alcoholic beverages.

Eric Gregory, president of the Frankfort-based Kentucky Distillers’ Association, said his group’s members have not had a chance to discuss Heyburn’s ruling.

The group has opposed proposals in the state legislature to allow sales of distilled spirits in grocery stores, saying it would hurt small liquor retail businesses.

Daniel Meyer, executive secretary and general counsel of Wine and Spirit Wholesalers of Kentucky, based in Louisville, said he was “surprised” by the ruling but noted that it was not a final order.

“We were not a part of the lawsuit,” Meyer said. “I guess now we’ll have to see what the parties have to say about it and what this conference the judge wants might produce.”

The law dealing with the sale of wine and liquor in pharmacies and grocery stores dates to Prohibition, when prescriptions could be obtained to buy alcohol at drug stores, Meyer said.

The sales were restricted in grocery stores, he said, because the thought was that minors are often in grocery stores and should not be exposed to booze.

Kentucky has a hodgepodge of laws dealing with the sale of alcoholic beverages.

Gov. Steve Beshear has set up a special task force headed by Public Protection Secretary Robert Vance to try to modernize and streamline Kentucky’s laws.

It is to hold the first of three public forums Thursday in Frankfort and report its recommendations to Beshear in January for possible consideration during the 2013 General Assembly.

-Eapen Thampy

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16 Responses to “Federal Judge Strikes Down Prohibition-Era Restrictions on Alcohol Sales in Kentucky”

  1. #1 |  Adrian Ratnapala | 

    On the one hand this gives me the heebeejeebees, that a judge is using an broad interpretation of a constitutional principle to force laws supported by one particular political group. On the other hand I belong to that particular political group, and I think this is actualy a fairly reasonable way to understand the concept “equal protection under the law”.

  2. #2 |  el coronado | 

    Ok, so answer me this: Fed judges think they get to ignore laws they don’t like; or rewrite ’em to suit themselves – Congrefs or Legislatures or The People be damned. And we the people just sit there like stunned cattle, and say, “Well, he’s a *judge*, so I guess we have to do what he says.” So what’s to stop an almighty, life-tenured judge from one day saying, “Y’Know, I think drug/narcotics laws are all bullshit. I, your black-robed Superior, hereby declare all drug laws null and void.”?

    They either do or don’t have the power to strike down laws that offend their delicate sensibilities. Which is it?

  3. #3 |  Ariel | 

    I straddle both of these comments, and my groin hurts from the strain. Damn good example of Fed v State. Personally, I’d go with Kentucky, but the strain is there. Unless there is a damn good reason, and I’m not sure Equal Protection meets it, Kentucky wins. Incorporation should have limits. Still my groin hurts from the strain.

  4. #4 |  C. S. P. Schofield | 

    I think that what’s happening here is that Kentucky diluted its Prohibition laws to the point of incoherence; grocery stores could carry beer but not wine, could carry wine if they had a separate entrance and staff, and drug stores had no such restrictions…

    It reads as if, if Kentucky had stuck to “No alcohol in grocery or drug stores” they’d still have the prohibition law. The Judge appears to be saying “You can have Prohibition laws for a real reason, but you can’t just jerk people around with them.”

  5. #5 |  Robert | 

    So what they’ll do now is also prohibit it at the drugstores as well.

  6. #6 |  Bronwyn | 

    I hope it sticks. Sure, Kroger’s liquor store is 2 doors down from the grocery… not too inconvenient unless you’re toting 3 kids and groceries in a cart, none of which will fit in the teeny-tiny liquor store. So I have to make a separate trip or go without.

    So the decision is a double win! I’ll be able to stimulate the economy and be environmentally friendly at the same time. Woo!

    It really is stupid a law. Happy to see it go.

  7. #7 |  CTrees | 

    Now the question is, will this have any sway on similar laws in other states? For instance, South Carolina allows a store to sell beer and wine or wine and liquor, but not beer and liquor or all three. Thus you have the occassional store with that same two-side setup like Kentucky, with one side selling beer, wine and food and the other selling liquor, with different entances and registers.

  8. #8 |  EH | 

    This may be the opposite of “hard cases make bad law.”

  9. #9 |  BamBam | 


    corrupt system, top to bottom. i wonder how many jurors were plants or threatened. there is no logical way all 12 could decide guilty. there’s no point in letting yourself be arrested with such a stacked deck.

  10. #10 |  liberranter | 

    I fail to see how anyone who believes in the free market can get exercised over the technicality of this decision, one which, while striking a minor blow for the free market, does little in the way of advancing freedom or the free market.

    My first thought as a principled libertarian is: why should there be any “liquor laws” (or licenses, or any other form of regulation) at all? If you, as a vendor, want to sell distilled spirits (or any other form of fermented liquid) to willing customers, that is your right. If you, as a consumer, are averse to any form of alcoholic beverage, then don’t buy any – but leave others alone to do so as they wish. It’s just a simple illustration of the NAP in action.

    “Liquor laws,” “dry counties,” and other such statist creations are nothing more than the imposition of tyranny, usually for perverse reasons having nothing to do with sobriety, by those who hold the reins of political power. While one would be tempted to say that such laws represent the dominance by the majority over the minority, it’s actually the reverse in this case. If you’ve ever lived in, or even visited, a “dry county” in any state in the U.S., you will generally find that alcohol consumption is higher per capita in these counties than in “wet” localities. That would seem to indicate that “dry laws” are a burden imposed by a political or ideological minority of teetotalers upon a majority of drinkers.

    Whether one is “wet” or “dry,” the point is that all such laws interfere with personal choice and self-ownership and should be anathema to anyone who believes in individual liberty.

  11. #11 |  Juice | 

    BamBam, if you think that verdict was a result of a conspiracy, you are seriously deluded. The man represented himself, and if he wanted to have any chance of acquittal that was the dumbest thing he could have done. The state made their case that he broke the law. All he did was say, yeah I broke the law, but the law is dumb. Under those circumstances almost any jury in the country would convict. Lord knows what was going through his head. Legal teams offered help and he did not take it. Well, now he has to live with the consequences of his poor (very poor) decisions.

  12. #12 |  Steven | 

    “The group has opposed proposals in the state legislature to allow sales of distilled spirits in grocery stores, saying it would hurt small liquor retail businesses.”

    Why does nobody blink an eye when blatant protectionism is used as a presumptively valid argument? Ridiculous.

  13. #13 |  Becky | 

    i live in a small town in ky, and i would like alcohol to be sold here, not because i drink it, but because our crappy little town would improve. all we have for a grocery store is walmart. since there is no competition, their prices are sky high. if alcohol is allowed, kroger would come in and walmart’s prices would decrease. also, we have nowhere to eat out here because all the good places (olive garden, applebee’s, o’charley’s, etc) sell alcohol. they won’t come to an area where alcohol sales is prohibited. PLUS all these businesses coming into the area equal what? jobs. there are so many people looking for work here, and no jobs. yes, i’m SO for alcohol sales being legal here. SO for it.

  14. #14 |  BamBam | 

    BamBam, if you think that verdict was a result of a conspiracy, you are seriously deluded.

    I suggested it as a possibility. In the face of everything we know about Team State and cops/prosecutors/judges, and the massive amount of things we DON’T know about Team State, it’s a viable possibility.

    You make your claim that I am deluded based on what data? Instead of name calling, how about posing a logical argument. Name calling shows you have nothing, possibly in the intellectual department (see, insults can be hurled both ways).

  15. #15 |  Matt B | 

    @C. S. P. Schofield Which unfortunately means PA is probably stuck with its backwards laws.

  16. #16 |  Juice | 

    You make your claim that I am deluded based on what data?

    BamBam, I called you deluded because you suggested that there was a conspiracy involved in the verdict of that trial. No, it’s not “a viable possibility”.