Jersey Oenophiles Phile Suit.
So, you are sitting at your computer in New Jersey, and you decide that you want to buy some wine to have delivered as gifts to your friends in New Jersey.
One of your friends is a true blue Jersey Guy – so much so that he even prefers to drink wine from one of Jersey’s couple dozen wineries. You locate the Jersey winery online, and with a couple mouse clicks the wine will be on its way.
Your other friend prefers California wine from a small vineyard he visited several months ago. You’re in luck. The vineyard has a website. You locate your friend’s favorite vintage, and when you click to make the purchase, a window pops up informing that you that direct shipments of wine into New Jersey are prohibited by New Jersey law. Sorry, pal.
It’s true. New Jersey’s alcoholic beverage laws prohibit direct shipments of wine to consumers from out of state wineries.
Recently these laws have come under attack by a California winery and four New Jersey residents, all of whom are plaintiffs in a federal lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey. The lawsuit, like several others pending in other states, claim that the New Jersey laws violate the Commerce Clause of the United States Constitution, which states that it is the federal government and not the states that has the power to regulate interstate commerce.
Out of state wineries, particularly those that are not large enough to sell through New Jersey licensed distributors, want a share of the approximately 10 million bottles of wine Garden Staters buy each year.
New Jersey’s wine distributors oppose changing the law, lest they lose the revenue that would sail through cyberspace to out of state wineries, which, some estimate, could be as much as $500 million to $1 billion annually. It is also urged that lifting the prohibition of direct shipments from out of state would deprive the New Jersey of tax revenue, hurt local businesses, and result in illegal sales to minors.
It’s been quite a while since I spent any time reading the Commerce Clause cases in which constitutional issues of great import are spawned by things like apples and mud flaps on trucks. I also don’t know whether there are any recent decisions by the Supreme Court that may be dispositive of the issue, although I doubt it, because apparently similar cases in other federal districts have produced disparate decisions.
It seems to me that those who oppose New Jersey’s laws may have the better argument. Jersey’s laws do seem to be grounded solely on protecting its economic interests. And, while the argument that out of state direct shipments will lead to illegal sales may have some sex appeal in suggesting a legitimate state interest, it does not square with the laws’ permitting in-state wineries to sell wine online.
Soooo, I think I’ll have a nice glass of merlot and watch what happens.
Oh, yeah. That wine will be from some place other than New Jersey. As much as I love the Garden State, Jersey wine ….. oy!!!