Tennessee Wine and Spirits Retailers Ass’n v. Blair


Does the Twenty-first Amendment permit states to require that alcohol retail license applicants reside in-state for a specified length of time prior to obtaining a license?

This case asks the Supreme Court to determine the scope of power granted to the States under the Twenty-first Amendment and to explain when exercises of that power infringe upon the dormant Commerce Clause. Tennessee requires that a person must be a Tennessee resident for two years before they may receive a retail or wholesale liquor license and for ten years before they may re-apply for a retail or liquor license. Clayton Byrd, Tennessee Fine Wines and Spirits, LLC, and Affluere Investments, Inc. argue that Tennessee’s requirements amount to discrimination against out-of-state economic interests in violation of the dormant Commerce Clause. Tennessee Wine and Spirits Retailers Association counters that the Twenty-first Amendment grants the States broad power to regulate the in-state distribution of alcohol, and that a state does not violate the dormant Commerce Clause if the state treats alcohol produced out-of-state the same as alcohol produced in-state. The outcome of this case will help determine how the power to regulate the sale, use, and distribution of alcohol is divided between the federal government and the States.

Questions as Framed for the Court by the Parties 

Whether the Twenty-first Amendment empowers states, consistent with the dormant Commerce Clause, to regulate liquor sales by granting retail or wholesale licenses only to individuals or entities that have resided in-state for a specified time.

In order to sell alcoholic beverages in Tennessee, a retailer must obtain a license from the Tennessee Alcoholic Beverage Commission (“the TABC”). Byrd v. Tennessee Wine and Retailers Association at 2. To obtain a license, applicants must meet the durational-residency requirements set forth in the Tennessee Code.

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