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Tenn. Wine & Spirits Retailers Ass'n v. Thomas

Supreme Court of the United States

January 16, 2019, Argued; June 26, 2019, Decided

No. 18-96.

Opinion

Justice Alito delivered the opinion of the Court.

The State of Tennessee imposes demanding durational-residency requirements on all individuals and businesses seeking to obtain or renew a license to operate a liquor store. One provision precludes the renewal of a license unless the applicant has resided in the State for 10  [*2457]  consecutive years. Another provides that a corporation cannot obtain a license unless all of its stockholders are residents. The Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit struck down these provisions as blatant violations of the Commerce Clause, and neither petitioner—an association of Tennessee liquor retailers—nor the State itself defends them in this Court.

The Sixth Circuit also invalidated a provision requiring applicants for an initial license to have resided in the State for the prior two years, and petitioner does challenge that decision. But while this requirement is less extreme than the others that the Sixth Circuit found to be unconstitutional, [***10]  we now hold that it also violates the Commerce Clause and is not shielded by §2 of the Twenty-first Amendment. Section 2 was adopted as part of the scheme that ended prohibition on the national level. It gives each State leeway in choosing the alcohol-related public health and safety measures that its citizens find desirable. But §2 is not a license to impose all manner of protectionist restrictions on commerce in alcoholic beverages. Because Tennessee’s 2-year residency requirement for retail license applicants blatantly favors the State’s residents and has little relationship to public health and safety, it is unconstitutional.

Tennessee, like many other States, requires alcoholic beverages distributed in the State to pass through a specified three-tiered system. 1 Acting through the Tennessee Alcoholic Beverage Commission (TABC), the State issues different types of licenses to producers, wholesalers, and retailers of alcoholic beverages. See Tenn. Code Ann. §57-3-201 (2018). Producers may sell only to licensed wholesalers; wholesalers may sell only to licensed retailers or other wholesalers; and only licensed retailers may sell to consumers. §57-3-404. No person may lawfully participate in the sale of alcohol without the appropriate license. See, e.g., §57-3-406.

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139 S. Ct. 2449 *; 204 L. Ed. 2d 801 **; 2019 U.S. LEXIS 4399 ***; 27 Fla. L. Weekly Fed. S 1066; 2019 WL 2605555

TENNESSEE WINE AND SPIRITS RETAILERS ASSOCIATION, Petitioner v. RUSSELL F. THOMAS, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR OF THE TENNESSEE ALCOHOLIC BEVERAGE COMMISSION, et al.

Notice: The LEXIS pagination of this document is subject to change pending release of the final published version.

Prior History:  [***1] ON WRIT OF CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE SIXTH CIRCUIT

Byrd v. Tenn. Wine & Spirits Retailers Ass'n, 883 F.3d 608, 2018 U.S. App. LEXIS 4081 (6th Cir. Tenn., Feb. 21, 2018)

Disposition: 883 F. 3d 608, affirmed.

CORE TERMS

alcohol, liquor, license, dormant, commerce, interstate, retailers, out-of-state, durational-residency, in-state, borders, Wine, protectionist, beverages, nonresidents, protectionism, discriminatory, Convention, shipment, arrival, wholesalers, ratification, banned, transportation, three-tiered, barriers, domestic, framed, consumption, exemption

Constitutional Law, Prohibition, Governments, State & Territorial Governments, Licenses, Congressional Duties & Powers, Commerce Clause, Dormant Commerce Clause, Legislation, Interpretation, Police Powers