Cheers for Supreme Court's liquor license ruling

Johnson City Press • Jul 1, 2019 at 11:01 AM

This week’s Supreme Court decision striking down Tennessee’s in-state residency requirements for retail liquor license holders was a win for consumers.

Since 1984, our protectionist policies unreasonably inhibited free commerce by requiring new applicants for liquor store licenses to have lived in the state for two years, requiring those seeking to renew their licenses to have lived in the state for 10 years and imposing residency requirements on all of a retail liquor company’s officers, directors and owners.

The latter two prohibitions were so egregious that not even the Tennessee Wine and Spirits Retail Association, the liquor industry trade group that sued to keep the two-year durational residency requirement in place, would defend them.

Writing for the majority in the 7-2 decision ruling the requirement unconstitutional, Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr., said the laws in question were clearly not written in the interest of interstate commerce or consumers.

“If we viewed Tennessee’s durational-residency requirements as a package, it would be hard to avoid the conclusion that their overall purpose and effect is protectionist,” he wrote.

The country’s ill-advised attempt at government-mandated teetotalism during Prohibition left scars on the Constitution showing a hard-learned lesson. To reverse the choking restrictions of the 18th Amendment, the 21st Amendment gave the states the power to decide how alcohol should be regulated in the best interests and well-being of their residents.

Tennessee’s residency requirements, however, were not written with our well-being in mind.

For 35 years, these laws have served to artificially limit the number of liquor store owners in the state and keep their competition out, allowing inordinately high prices and less variation of products.

With the high court’s backing, out-of-state store owners will be on an even playing field and will be able to compete for your business. As larger national firms move in, prices will likely fall, and some existing owners who cannot compete will likely go out of business.

It’s unfortunate that those small store owners will be served a raw deal through no fault of their own. They have been following the state’s laws, but will now lose their money and livelihoods because legislators 35 years ago were not well enough versed in constitutional law.

It’s little consolation to them, but the blame for their losses will lie squarely on the backs of those incompetent lawmakers.