On January 15th , the Sixth Circuit reversed the decision of the Western District of Kentucky which had previously found that the statute and regulation permitting pharmacies to sell liquor and wine (while simultaneously prohibiting grocery stores from doing so) failed rational-basis review under the Equal Protection Clause. According to the Sixth Circuit, the statute and regulation in question “conceivably seek to reduce access to high-alcohol products,” and thus were properly supported by a rational basis. (Opinion, p. 1) .
If you recall, the statute and associated regulation at issue prohibited establishments, which had at least 10% of their gross sales coming from the sale of staple groceries or gasoline, from selling wine and/or liquor. See KRS 243.230(7); 804 KAR 4:270. According to the Court, “the general rule is that legislation is presumed to be valid and will be sustained if the classification drawn by the statute is rationally related to a legitimate state interest.” (Opinion, p. 5) Likewise, the Court determined that it “must uphold an economic regulation if there is any reasonably conceivable state of facts that could provide a rational basis for the classification.” (Id.) Thus, the Court set out to determine whether the statute was “rationally related to a legitimate state interest” and whether the basis for its associated regulation could be supported by “any reasonably conceivable state of facts.” (Id.) The grocers challenging the statute and regulation therefore had a high burden to meet in order to prevail in this case.
In undertaking its analysis, the Court found that Kentucky “indisputably maintains a legitimate interest in reducing access to products with high alcohol content,” since “[p]roducts with high alcohol content exacerbate problems caused by alcohol, including drunken driving.” (Id.) Further, the Court found that Kentucky’s “interest applies not only to the general public; minors, inexperienced and impressionable, require particular vigilance. And the state’s interest applies to abstinent citizens who, morally or practically objecting to alcohol exposure, wish to avoid retailers that sell such drinks.” (Opinion, pp. 5-6) Thus, so long as the distinction between grocers and gas stations on one hand, and pharmacies and liquor stores on the other, is rationally related to those state interests, the challenged statute and regulation would be constitutional.
Predictably, the Court found that “reasonably conceivable facts support the contention that grocery stores and gas stations pose a greater risk of exposing citizens to alcohol than do other retailers. A legislature could rationally believe that average citizens spend more time in grocery stores and gas stations than in other establishments.” (Opinion, p. 6) The Court also found that this conclusion applied equally to minors:
“According to a plausible set of facts, more minors work at grocery stores and gas stations than other retailers; after all, grocery stores and gas stations conceivably provide more low-skilled and low-experience jobs, including clerks, baggers, and stockers. Kentucky could also believe that grocery stores typically outweigh other retailers in size and traffic, allowing minors to more easily steal wine or liquor. Regarding gas stations, their convenience and prevalence near highways suggest an even greater danger in allowing alcohol sales.”
As a result, because the Court found that the Commonwealth had a legitimate state interest in restricting access to beverages with high alcohol content, and because the distinctions in question could be rationally related to supporting that state interest, KRS 243.230 and 804 KAR 4:270 satisfied rational-basis review under the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution. The contrary decision of the District Court was reversed accordingly.
In sum: grocery stores and gas stations remain prohibited from selling wine and/or liquor.Back to news