If you are a fan of Clarence Thomas, Sandra Day O'Connor or any of the other esteemed jurists on the U.S. Supreme Court, you may want to belly up to Friday's meeting of the Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission.
Commissioners will address two recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions affecting Utah liquor laws. In one case, the court refused to hear an appeal by Moose clubs in Salt Lake City and Tooele that the state's suspension of their liquor licenses violated their members' freedom of association.In the other case, the court ruled in a Rhode Island case that state bans on truthful liquor advertising violate freedom of speech. Utah has a more comprehensive ban on liquor advertising than does Rhode Island, raising the possibility that Utah's ban will also be declared unconstitutional.
"Both (issues) will likely be on the agenda," said Earl Dorius, manager of the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control's compliance division.
The Mooses' liquor licenses were suspended by the state because the fraternal order does not allow women as members - a violation of state Civil Rights laws. The licenses of Utah Elks clubs were also suspended, but that fraternal organization has since changed its bylaws to allow women.
The Moose had earlier appealed the suspension to the Utah Supreme Court, but lost. In light of the U.S. Supreme Court decision, "We will no doubt get back in touch with their (Moose) legal counsel to determine where they go from here, whether they surrender their licenses or whether they change their method of operation," Dorius said.
Two years ago, the liquor commission indefinitely suspended the Mooses' liquor licenses (instead of revoking them) to allow the clubs the chance to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. Now that the court has refused to hear the appeal, the commission is back to the position of license revocation if the clubs do not comply with anti-discrimination laws.
The Moose clubs can still petition the Supreme Court for a rehearing, but such rehearings are exceptionally rare.
Moose International is a fraternal order for men over 21. Individual lodges establish and maintain social quarters where members can purchase food and drink for themselves and guests.
In Utah, public and private clubs that serve alcoholic beverages must be licensed by the state. So-called private liquor clubs are considered "entities regulated by the state" and subject to anti-discrimination laws.
Meanwhile, ABC officials are remaining quiet about the Rhode Island decision and how it may affect Utah's ban on liquor advertising. The implications of the decision are set for discussion Friday, and officials are hoping for an attorney general's opinion by that time.
Similar to Utah, Rhode Island had maintained that a ban on advertising liquor prices was a mechanism to keep prices high and consumption low, keeping with the state's policy of promoting temperance. The state also argued that the 21st Amendment gave states wide latitude to regulate commerce in and use of alcohol, a claim Utah officials have long made in justifying its own ban on alcohol advertising.
But the Supreme Court ruled that the 21st Amendment does not supersede the First Amendment and that "blanket bans should not be approved unless the speech itself was flawed in some way, either because it was deceptive or related to unlawful activity."
According to the decision, complete bans are "particularly dangerous because they all but foreclose alternative means of disseminating certain information," the court held. Furthermore, such bans serve to obscure "an underlying governmental policy that could be implemented without regulating speech."
The court found the state could have promoted temperance through means other than restricting free speech, things like raising alcohol taxes, imposing minimum prices on alcohol and public education campaigns.
"The First Amendment directs us to be especially skeptical of regulations that seek to keep people in the dark for what the government perceives to be their own good," the justices wrote.