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Gettin’ Drunk in Kentucky Just Got Easier

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Get big government out of my grocery store liquor aisle!

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 said 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 is required to conduct beer sales.

Such requirements do not apply to drugstores.

Thank goodness somebody finally found a use for the Constitution. This change will make it approximately 2.3% easier to acquire wine and liquor in Lexington by effectively making every single business establishment a liquor store. Now if we could only do away with the “no liquor sales on Election Day” rule, and the “can’t mail booze into Kentucky” rule, which is a genuine inconvenience.

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  • Scott Lemieux

    Now here’s the kind of regulations libertarians could be trying to strike down, rather than trying to deny people health insurance.

  • Shouldn’t there be a liquor sales mandate on Election day. Nationally, not just in Kentucky.

    • Some Guy

      An “I Voted” sticker and a bottle of whiskey? I can get on board with that.

      • wengler

        Finally, the guv’ment is workin’ fer me!

        • We’re from Seagram’s. We’re here to help.

  • “Thank goodness somebody finally found a use for the Constitution.”

    Superb line my friend.

  • …which is a genuine inconvenience.

    Not to mention totally UNCONSTITUTIONAL.

  • Okay, so why can’t I buy a pistol from the bartender just before I have to pay the bill?

    • wengler

      Shootin’ straight should be the mandatory sobriety test.

  • Wait… so you’re saying you could already buy whiskey at a CVS before this ruling?

    Liquor laws are so weird.

    • Yup. Whiskey at CVS, but no wine at the grocery store.

      • I’m an outlander and fly into Lexington on business (in one of the dry counties to the south) pretty regularly. I usually stop at a Rite-Aid near the airport to pick up a couple of things that don’t fly carry-on. The first time I saw a liquor cabinet in the Rite-Aid, I knew how much of an outlander I was, though to this law’s credit, that feeling got more pronounced pretty quickly.

    • Indiana is like this. Liquor at CVS but not at the grocery stores. Warm beer everywhere, but cold beer only in liquor shops.

      What really sucks is coming back to visit family and realizing the hard way you can’t buy any booze on Sundays.

      • wengler

        Yeah, Minnesota is that way too.

        Luckily, Illinois is a liquor-forward state.

  • Funkhauser

    We here in New York are interested in your ideas and would like to subscribe to your newsletter.

    • Always Lurking

      I wonder. Grocery stores have been agitating around NYC for a long time to be able to sell wine and spirits. I fear for the long-term viability of my favorite wine stores…

  • I’m in New Jersey where you can’t get alcohol at a drugstore. *facepalms mightily*

    • Actually you can, but people from Pennsylvania buy it all.

  • Considering that a large fraction of the non-rum spirits I consume hail from Kentucky, I’m surprised that it took this long.

    • DrDick

      They were afraid that without the limits there would not be any left for the rest of us.

  • Lige

    Just moved to Indiana – the warm beer thing is nuts. Not can you not buy alcohol on Sundays but you also aren’t allowed to buy a car. What about Right to Drink?

  • Pseudonym

    “No State shall… deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.” What person is being denied equal protection here? The grocery store? Its owner?

    • Mister Jim Beam.

      • Pseudonym

        But wasn’t he an anchor baby?

    • Murc

      As I understand it, the owner of the grocery store, yes. The justification is that the law as written is way too arbitrary; they split the baby too many times and too closely.

      It would be like if you tailored a law specifying that liquor may only be sold in establishments constructed from red clay bricks, on the vernal equinox, by people in full 19th century period English dress who preform a song (of your choice) from the canon of Gilbert and Sullivan with every purchase. There’s no compelling state interest there.

      Here in New York, for example, we have restrictive liquor sales, but its much less arbitrary; an establishment that is selling things for consumptions elsewhere may sell spirits OR beer, pick one. This is annoying and inconvenient, but its at least colorable.

      • Marek

        Why colorable? It seems just as arbitrary.

        • Murc

          Well, the argument here in New York is based on some pretty creaky thinking regarding the hazards to public healthy, safety, and morality created by making all forms of alcohol available everywhere. They’re BAD arguments, but they’re not ARBITRARY ones.

          In practical terms, we hold onto our current liquor regimen because liquor store owners would very much like for supermarkets to not be able to stop selling wine and liquor. I live in Rochester, and I can tell you straight-up Wegmans would love to get into that game in a huge way.

      • rea

        There’s no compelling state interest there.

        This is not a strict scrutiny/compelling state interest situation–all it needs is a rational basis.

        Not that it has a rational basis.

      • Snarki, child of Loki

        It would be like if you tailored a law specifying that liquor may only be sold in establishments constructed from red clay bricks…

        Better watch out, the “red clay brick” construction lobby is very powerful. If you get one through your window tonight, you’ve been warned.

        And besides, who says that there *isn’t* a compelling state interest in maintaining an active appreciation in the canon of Gilbert and Sullivan among the drinking classes?

        “I’ll have a fifth of Bombay Gin, and a ‘Modern Major General’, please”

        • Malaclypse

          There is a joke to be made about Mad Dog 20/20 and Englishmen, but it is eluding me. Alas.

      • NonyNony

        Actually your analogy doesn’t quite work right given the way the story looks.

        It’s more like Kentucky passed a law saying that if you’re a grocery store then you can only sell liquor if your store is constructed from red clay bricks, on the vernal equinox, by people in full 19th century period English dress.

        But if you’re a drugstore then you only need to worry about the red clay brick requirement.

        The problem seems to be the unequal treatment, not the ridiculousness of the requirement. IANAL, but the way the story reads it sounds like the legislature could pass a law saying that ALL businesses that sell liquor have to fulfill the same requirements as the grocery stores and it would be fine.

  • Anderson

    I’m not buying this; look for the state law to be upheld 3-0 as valid police power when this gets appealed.

    • Scott Lemieux

      Yeah, and then we’ll get the vodka mandate. Communist.

    • Marek

      I think you’re right, but only because federal judges aren’t elected. Yet.

      • Why would electing judges change this? Legislators could get rid of this law, and are elected, and yet it (and lots of laws like it) is still on the books.

        • Marek

          Well, I was mostly joking, but the legislature won’t pass on the constitutionality of a statute – that’s something judges do. And if you started electing federal judges in Kentucky, I’m assuming the pro-whiskey lobby would have something to say about how that would work out.

      • Davis X. Machina

        They are, at one remove.

      • Kentucky judges are elected. And yet….

        • Marek

          Pretty sure the article said a federal district court judge.

  • L.

    Who cares if you can’t mail booze into Kentucky? Kentucky is where all the good booze comes from.

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