Magistrate Recommends Upholding Maine Law Prohibiting Direct Shipment Of Wine

July 28, 2006

Attorney General Steve Rowe today announced that U.S. Magistrate Judge Margaret J. Kravchuk has issued a recommended decision upholding the State's prohibition on direct shipment of wine. Oregon winery Cherry Hill Vineyard and Hampden resident Philip Brooks filed a lawsuit challenging the law in U.S. District Court in Maine last year after the U.S. Supreme Court found that New York and Michigan laws violated the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution by treating direct shipment of wine by in-state wineries differently from those by out-of-state wineries.

The Attorney General argued that the purpose and effect of the Maine law prohibiting direct shipments of alcohol was to prevent youth access to alcohol and that wineries were treated the same, regardless of their location. In the past few years, Attorney General Rowe has led Maine community efforts to reduce youth interest in and access to alcohol, and to help alert Mainers to new research on the dangerous effects of alcohol on the adolescent brain. Magistrate Judge Kravchuk agreed, writing in a 19-page opinion:

I do not think this proposition really deserves any protracted discussion. If the requirement of "face-to- face" or "on-premises" transactions were applied to an innocuous article of interstate commerce such as clothing, which is not subject to any age restriction or other public health restriction (let alone the Twenty-first Amendment), then it would be difficult to understand what rational basis might exist for prohibiting mail order purchases. But here the patently obvious circumstances are that the subject matter of the statutory scheme is wine, wine is an alcoholic beverage that is contraband when placed in certain minors' hands, and the State has concluded that mail order transactions cannot reliably be policed in order to protect certain minors from themselves. (At page 18)

[Note: The 21st Amendment to the U.S. Constitution repealed prohibition and granted to the states considerable power over alcohol regulation.]

Attorney General Rowe said, "The more I learn about the dangerous and lasting effects of alcohol on teenagers, the more strongly I feel about defending the Legislature's excellent work on preventing youth access to alcohol by outlawing direct shipments."