Same Wine Debate, Different Venue

She walked into the lion’s den today and came out looking pretty good.

Copia in Napa, California played host today to a debate over the direct shipping issue. NPR’s "Justice Talking" show set up shop at Copia and hosted the debate between Kathleen Sullivan of the Stanford Law School and one of the attorneys who argued before the Supreme Court on behalf of the wineries, and Nida Samona, Chairperson of the Michigan Liquor Control Commission.

There were a number vintners and wine business types in the audience. I don’t think Ms. Samona had a single friend in the house. Yet, it must be said she carried off the wholesalers’ and states’ position very forcefully and with conviction. This was not an easy task.

She was consistent in her argument, noting over and over that the states simply have no way of regulating businesses that fall outside their jurisdictions, making it impossible to assure they don’t thwart Michigan’s alcohol laws. There was a great deal of discussion about just how Michigan insures its wineries don’t ship wine to minors although these wineries have the right to ship direct. Simona didn’t suggest that there is anything they can do to stop this, but because they are licensed by the state, Michigan can punish its wineries if it’s found they are shipping illegally to minors. This is something they can’t do with out of state wineries she argued. Of course, she is wrong about this. States are able to enlist the aid of the federal government to punish offenders is they choose. Her response was while the feds can do this, they don’t have the time.

Sullivan was the hero. She defended small wineries, explaining that most wholesalers have no desire to represent the small wineries that depend on direct sales to make a living. She also made the point over and over that what Michigan and New York are doing in not allowing California wineries to ship to their states is discrimination, pure and simple and unconstitutional.

What was not discussed, unfortunately, were the merits of the case brought before the Supreme Court. This was disappointing. The debate that was discussed today has been carried out for almost a decade now. It has been heard over and over. Nothing new was discussed. This is a shame for Sullivan. Her element is constitutional law. Had the discussion taken on the constitutional issues at stake, she would have had complete command of the discussion.

There was also very little discussion of the implications of a ruling by the Supreme Court that these laws are unconstitutional. What will happen if discriminatory laws are struck down. This is really the most important issue before us right now.

Posted In: Shipping Wine


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