June 26, 2019
Decided June 26, 2019
Tennessee Wine & Spirits Retailers Association v. Thomas, No. 18-96
Today, the Supreme Court struck down Tennessee’s 2-year durational residency requirement for obtaining retail liquor licenses, holding that it discriminates against interstate commerce in violation of the dormant Commerce Clause.
Tennessee law imposes a two-year residency requirement for applicants seeking to obtain a one-year license to sell liquor in the state, and a ten-year residency requirement for licensees seeking to renew their retail liquor license. Two new applicants, Total Wine and the Ketchum family, sought to obtain retail liquor licenses in Tennessee. Though neither satisfied the durational residency requirements, Tennessee’s Alcoholic Beverage Commission (the “Commission”) recommended that the licenses be approved. Then, in response to a threatened lawsuit, the Commission sought a declaratory ruling from a federal district court on the constitutionality of the durational-residency requirements. The district court held that the durational residency requirements violated the dormant Commerce Clause, notwithstanding the 21st Amendment’s express reservation of power to each state to regulate the importation and distribution of liquor into the state. A divided panel of the Sixth Circuit affirmed.
Does the 21st Amendment empower states, consistent with the dormant Commerce Clause, to regulate liquor sales by granting retail or wholesale licenses only to individuals or entities that have resided in-state for a specified time?
No. Tennessee’s 2-year durational residency requirement for retail liquor store license applicants violates the dormant Commerce Clause and is not rescued by the 21st Amendment. The requirement discriminates against out-of-state applicants and is not justified by any legitimate state interest.
“The aim of the [21st Amendment] was not to give States a free hand to restrict the importation of alcohol for purely protectionist purposes.”
Justice Alito, writing for the majority
What It Means:
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