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Welcome to STop, the Seattle Times Opinion blog where our editorial writers and editors share their evolving thoughts on a variety of issues. STop is a place where opinion writers and readers can exchange views and readers can learn more about how editorial positions are formed.

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December 09, 2004

Wine and the states

I am of two minds about the wine case at the U.S. Supreme Court. On the one hand, I like the idea of free trade among the states, which applies to every legal product except alcoholic drinks. On the other hand, I respect the Constitution.

This is what the Constitution says about intoxicating drink, in the 21st Amendment, Section 2: The transportation or importation into any State, Territory or possession of the United States for delivery or use therein of intoxicating liquors, in violation of the laws thereof, is hereby prohibited.

At first glance, that looks like Prohibition, but actually this is the measure that repealed Prohibition. The key is, “in violation of the laws thereof.” It means the states control the movement of beer, wine and liquor into their territory.

Another part of the Constitution, the commerce clause, implies that the states may not control the movement of other commercial products into their territory. The state of Washington cannot have a policy about California watermelons, separate and distinct from Washington watermelons. It cannot discriminate against Mack trucks and in favor of Kenworth trucks, or Coca-Cola bottled in Oregon versus Coca-Cola bottled in Washington.

This case was regarding the states of New York and Michigan, which forbid all out-of-state wineries to send their residents wine through the mail. However, they allow in-state wineries to do it. New York and Michigan say this is for the protection of the public, a claim that is unbelievable on its face. New York and Michigan are trying to favor local wineries.

The question is, under the Constitution, can New York and Michigan do this?

It seems to me they can -- because the 21st amendment says they can. It is more specific than the commerce clause, and anyway it is an amendment, adopted in 1933. If it conflicts with the commerce clause, it is the commerce clause that is amended.

I don’t like it, but that’s what it says.

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Posted by Bruce Ramsey at December 9, 2004 12:34 PM



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