November 24, 2020

Making wine in Minnesota just got a lot easier thanks to a top-shelf ruling from a federal judge. The victory is the culmination of a lawsuit IJ filed on behalf of two Minnesota farm wineries in 2017, challenging a protectionist law mandating that farm wineries use mostly Minnesota grapes in their vintages.

We argued that the cap violated the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution, and the court agreed, writing that “the Act’s in-state requirement expressly favors and benefits in-state economic interests” and the cap “is discriminatory on its face.” That discrimination meant there was a heavy burden on Minnesota to show that its law was necessary to protect the public—something so obviously false that the state didn’t bother to try. The court summed it up: “There is no suggestion in the record or the parties’ arguments that the Act’s in-state requirement serves any interest other than favoring Minnesota’s economic interests over similar out-of-state economic interests.” With that capitulation, the law could not survive when faced with the Constitution’s bouquet of free-trade protections.

IJ’s clients Alexis Bailly Vineyard and Next Chapter Winery have struggled for years to grow their businesses because of the law. It made any expansion conditioned on either growing more grapes, which the entrepreneurs did not want, or buying grapes from other Minnesota farms, which they wanted even less. Instead, both wineries desired to mix locally grown grapes with grapes mirroring their consumers’ wishes, which range from California varieties to selections from nearby Wisconsin to cold weather fruits from the Northeast to Old World gems from France.

The ruling allows that bottled-up potential to flow across Minnesota’s wine industry, not only to IJ’s clients but also to the nearly 100 other farm wineries in the state. The judge’s opinion was also notable because it relied upon two previous IJ victories, both at the U.S. Supreme Court. Those were last year’s ruling for Doug and Mary Ketchum and against a Tennessee law restricting who could open a liquor store and the 2005 case Granholm v. Heald, which found bans on interstate shipping of wine directly to consumers unconstitutional.

Next time you raise a glass, feel free to clink it on behalf of this array of victories for free trade

Anthony Sanders is an IJ senior attorney and director of IJ’s Center for Judicial Engagement.

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