A federal district judge has overturned an Indiana state law that banned the home delivery of wine and other alcoholic beverages to consumers from out-of-state sources.
In issuing his decision, U.S. District Judge Allen Sharp said that the state law violated the commerce clause of the U.S. Constitution by unduly impeding interstate commerce. Sharp also wrote that the Indiana law, which subjected violators to potential felony prosecutions, also unfairly gave Indiana residents preferred status in the distribution of alcohol over out-of-state residents.
Sharp's ruling came as the result of a lawsuit filed by 13 Indiana residents, including Garfield cartoonist Jim Davis and Indianapolis wine writer Russ Bridenbaugh. They based their challenge on the commerce clause, claiming that the statute prevented them from collecting wines not available from Indiana wholesalers or retailers. In addition, they said they could not ship wines home that they had purchased from outside Indiana's borders.
"It's excellent news. It's a good start to our campaign to show that these felony laws discriminate against out-of-state businesses," said Jim Nelson, vice president of the American Vintners Association, a Washington, D.C.-based trade organization. Indiana is one of several states that have enacted felony shipping bans over the last few years. Such bans have been supported by wine and spirits wholesalers, who view the growing trade in direct wine sales through the Internet and other sources as threats to their business.
Indiana passed its direct-shipment ban in August 1998. The Indiana case was one of the first such challenges to be brought by consumers; similar cases are also pending in Virginia and Texas.
Indiana state officials have yet to decide whether they will appeal the decision in federal court.
For a complete overview of the direct shipping issue, read our feature package The Wine Wars.