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7th Circuit affirms, reverses wine ruling

August 8, 2008

The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals has recognized Indiana's interest in keeping wine out of minors' hands, ruling that Hoosiers who want to order alcohol online or by phone will have to first make face-to-face contact at a winery to verify their age before being allowed to make the purchase.

The judges also cited the U.S. Supreme Court decision upholding Indiana's voter ID law in its reasoning.

An 11-page opinion came Thursday afternoon in Patrick L. Baude, et al. v. David L. Heath, Chairman of the Indiana Alcohol and Tobacco Commission, and Wine and Spirits Wholesalers of Indiana, Nos. 07-3323 and 07-3338, an appeal that came following an August 2007 ruling by then-U.S. District Judge John D. Tinder in Indianapolis. He ruled that part of the state's 2006 law banning out-of-state wineries from shipping to Indiana customers without face-to-face contact was unconstitutional, finding that the requirement created a trade barrier for wineries by requiring them to set up shop in Indiana or limit their potential market to buyers willing to travel to them.

But the 7th Circuit disagreed with that notion and reinstated the in-person contact rule, noting that the absence of face-to-face age verification made it easier for minors to have wine sent to them. The appellate panel - author Chief Judge Frank Easterbrook, and Judges William Bauer and Richard Posner - rejected plaintiffs' arguments that in-person verification by photo ID is ineffective and that online verification is just as effective. Instead, it relied on the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision upholding Indiana's voter ID law in Crawford v. Marion County Election Board, 129 S. Ct. 1610 (2008).

"Indiana thinks that in-person verification with photo ID helps to reduce cheating on legal rules, for both buying wine and voting (and perhaps other subjects)," Chief Judge Easterbrook wrote. "After the Supreme Court held ... that a belief that in-person verification with photo ID reduces vote fraud has enough support to withstand a challenge under the first amendment, it would be awfully hard to take judicial notice that in-person verification with photo ID has no effect on wine fraud and therefore flunks the interstate commerce clause."

The 7th Circuit affirmed Judge Tinder on the wholesale-permitting aspect of the law, finding that the wholesale clause protects Indiana's wine wholesalers at the expense of Indiana consumers and out-of-state wineries.

Now, the case is remanded to the federal court in Indianapolis for proceedings consistent with this opinion. Judge Tinder has since been elevated to the 7th Circuit, so a new judge will be assigned to the case. Indiana Lawyer couldn't reach attorneys after the ruling to learn whether a rehearing or higher court review will be requested.

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