Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Fourth Circuit affirms provisions of Virginia's Alcoholic Beverage Control Act

In BROOKS v. VASSAR, the Fourth Circuit considered a facial challenge, under the dormant Commerce Clause, to various aspects of Virginia's Alcoholic Beverage Control Act ("ABC Act"). The Court sustained the following statutes:

(1) Virginia Code 4.1-310(E), which provides an exception to the three-tier import restriction for consumers who personally carry into Virginia no more than one gallon (or four liters) of alcoholic beverages for personal consumption; and

(2) Virginia Code 4.1-119(A), which authorizes state owned and -operated ABC stores to market and sell only wine produced at Virginia "farm" wineries.

The first statute was upheld because it does not favor in-state producers and thus does not discriminate against out-of-state producers:

Because the Twenty-first Amendment "grants the States virtually complete control over whether to permit importation or sale of liquor and how to structure the liquor distribution system," and because the dormant Commerce Clause only prevents a State from enacting regulation that favors in-state producers and thus discriminates against interstate commerce, the Personal Import Exception does not violate the Clause.

The second statute was upheld under the market participant exception:

Virginia's choice of selling only Virginia wine is no more inappropriate than would be its choice to sell only Hershey's brand chocolate bars at a State commissary. Like all other in-state wine retailers, the ABC stores can choose which wines they purchase and stock, and Virginia's commitment to purchase only in-state wines is a choice that any wine retailer would be free to make for itself.

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