I have the utmost respect for the judicial branch of the American system of government. It is a job that comes with its perks but judges, generally, are not given enough credit for dispensing even-handed justice to criminals of all stripes and helping counterbalance legislation that was too often written in an environment of political fervor.
If there is one critique of these philosopher kings dolling out justice and interpreting the law as it is intended, it is that they are human being complete with all the weakness of the human condition; prejudices, biases, and mental blind spots to name a few.
Indiana has a law that restricts the sale of cold beer sales in grocery stores. Unlike Pennsylvania, customers in Indiana can waltz into any local grocer’s store and procure beer with minimal restriction. The problem is that the beer must be sold at room temperature according to state law. Only package liquor stores can sell “chilled” beer to those looking for a fresh cold one.
Last May the Indiana Petroleum Marketers and Convenience Store Association (IPCA) filed a lawsuit challenging the law that prevents grocery and convenience stores from selling cold beer. They were attempting to argue that the law violated their equal protection offered by the US Constitution by favoring liquor stores retailers over grocery and convenience stores.
I tend to think this line of legalistic thinking is slightly flawed. There are plenty of regulations that separate retailers into different categories that don’t violate equality protections under the Constitution, in my humble opinion. I do think that it stretches the limits of credulity not to see a miscarriage of justice that there is a fundamental difference between the selling of “chilled” versus “non-chilled” beer. It makes little sense to me that the law would decree how a venue stores its product so long as the store isn’t endangering the consumer with how their products are stored. (They should be selling their milk “chilled” for your protection.)
On Monday, Chief Judge Richard Young, a federal judge in Indianapolis, handed down a 34-page order throwing out the IPCA’s lawsuit. Chief Judge Young stated that allowing such stores to sell cold beer would result in more alcohol sales in the great state of Indiana thus making it harder for Indiana State Excise Police to enforce the state’s liquor laws.
I tend to agree with the Judge that if convenience stores carried cold beer that it is likely that people will by the pre-chilled beers when shopping. I am less convinced by the logic that people are choosing not to by beer at grocery stores and convenience stores because their beer isn’t chilled. I am dubious that scores of beer enthusiasts are going to the grocery store, seeing their favorite beer sitting on the shelf lukewarm, and choosing to stop at a liquor store on the way home to get the same beer only “chilled.” Rather than buying the beer where it is convenient and “chilling” it at home.
Yet even if that were the case why should the law restrict the sale of something simply because it would inconvenience the police. Cellphones have become omnipresent and the number of auto accidents has increased dramatically due to cell phone usage while driving. Enforcing this law is nearly impossible for police so why not make it impossible to sell a cellphone to anyone with a driver’s license? Or build cellphone jammers on every road in America? Or disable cellphones if they are moving faster than 10mph? (Sorry olympian runners.)
Alcohol is taxed. Increased sales of alcohol increases revenue for the state. In fact it increases revenue because alcohol is taxed at production and when sold so it is actually doubly taxes before reaching the consumer. If this judge were concerned with increased sales leading to increased difficulty of enforcement the correct reply is that increase sales, means increased tax revenue, that can lead to increase enforcement officers, which is a win-win-win! How often does that happen in politics.
The judge further argued that the laws was not “arcane” replying that the legislature had defined the limits for what can be sold in grocery and convenience stores and his role is not to act as a “super-legislature” and overturn their intent. Though one could argue when that law is unjust that is the very definition of his job. But hey, let’s just pretend that isn’t the case because it is convenient..
This ruling seems particularly stupid when viewed through the lens of common sense. Thankfully IPCA Executive Director Scot Imus has claimed that he will continue the fight against this “irrational, discriminatory, and outdated law.” He continued “there is wide-support to modernize Indiana’s alcohol laws, and we will continue to fight for fairness in the marketplace.”