"From wine what sudden friendship springs!"
-- John Gay (1685-1732), The Squire and his Cur
Good news for winemakers and wine consumers: The U.S. Supreme Court has issued its decision in Granholm v. Heald, and has overturned state laws that permitted direct shipment of wine to consumers within a state by that state's wineries while outlawing direct shipments into the state by out-of-state wineries. The opinions are available here [PDF].
This is yet another 5-4 decision from our often closely-divided Supreme Court, and displays an intriguing split among the justices. Justice Kennedy authored the majority opinion, which is joined by Justices Souter, Ginsburg, Breyer and, in the unusual role of "the swing vote," . . . Justice Antonin Scalia. The dissenters are Chief Justice Rehnquist and Justices Stevens, O'Connor and Thomas; Stevens and Thomas contribute written opinions in dissent.
The entire package of opinions comes to 73 pages, and I have not begun parsing it in detail. More commentary to follow.
Apropos of my title for this post, Professor B notes just how unusual the line-up of justices on the two sides of this case really is. Let's do the numbers:
The 5 justice majority had never voted together in a 5-4 case once in the last 10 years.
It just goes to show how unusual were the ideological and doctrinal issues presented by this case. You've got federal judicial power lined up against state legislative authority. You've got the original text of the constitution (albeit a principle extracted therefrom mainly by negative implication) versus an amendment tacked on validly but motivated by the worst sort of rent seeking. And so on.
I have to agree with the Professor's analysis of the limited basis for the majority's decision: essentially, what the Court disallows is the discrimination between in-state and out-of-state wineries under the direct shipping laws under consideration. One "remedy" available to the affected jurisdictions is to treat the two classes of winemakers similarly by prohibiting all direct shipment of wine, without regard to whether the point of origin is inside or outside of the State's borders. I suspect there would be a unanimous vote of the Court for the proposition that the 21st Amendment authorizes that sort of regulation -- just as it would authorize a State to go completely "dry" if it so chose. We should learn soon in which of these States there is a sufficiently strong neo-Prohibitionist sentiment -- or a sufficiently strong lobby for the entrenched wholesaler/distributor interests -- to close the door that the Court opened this morning.
OF RELATED INTEREST: So you say you want to buy the wines of the wineries who brought this case to the Court? Here are links to the winemakers mentioned in the majority's opinion:
- Domaine Alfred Winery -- successor to Chamisal Vineyards, the first wine property in the Edna Valley in California's San Luis Obispo County. [The Edna Valley is one of those places that instills a recognizable character in the wines produced from its grapes. I happen to dislike most Edna Valley wines because I dislike that character; many others, however, hold a more favorable opinion of the area.]
- The Lucas Winery -- located in Lodi in California's central valley, producing mostly Zinfandel. [I have no personal experience of the Lucas wines.]
- Swedenburg Estate Vineyard -- from Loudoun County, Virginia. [I have even less personal experience of Virginia wines.]