Over the last several years the Sixth Circuit has handled an unusually large number of significant alcohol-related cases (we wonder whether this is a coincidence or a commentary on the interests of the citizenry of the Circuit). Yesterday, the Sixth Circuit enforced a Kentucky statute prohibiting grocery stores and gas stations from selling wine and liquor in the face of an equal protection challenge. Maxwell’s Pic-Pac, Inc. v. Dahner. The district court had held the statute violative of equal protection, but the Sixth Circuit reversed this judgment.
The Court began by chronicling the history of alcohol regulation both nationally and within the Commonwealth. Kentucky ultimately made the decision to prohibit grocery stores and gas stations from selling high alcohol content beverages. As the Sixth Circuit explained, there are a variety of policy rationales for such a prohibition, chief of which is limiting access to high alcohol content drinks because of the potential problems associated with it. Certainly one can debate the public policy rationalization, but those interests sufficed to overcome a rational basis review under the Equal Protection Clause. The Sixth Circuit appreciated that the groceries faced “a high burden” to strike a law down on rational basis review and that “reasonably conceivable facts” justify Kentucky’s dissention.
Kentuckians will therefore have to continue to go to liquor stores in order to access wine and high alcohol liquor (somewhat surprising in the land of bourbon!). And we will have to stay tuned to see if further cases in the Sixth Circuit explore other contours of alcoholic beverage sales within the Circuit.