A federal judge ruled this week that Kentucky’s long-standing ban preventing grocery stores, gas stations and other retailers from selling wine and liquor is unconstitutional because it violates the equal protection clause of the Constitution’s Fourteenth Amendment, according to published reports. U.S. District Judge John G. Heyburn II ordered that the ban should stay in place for the present, however, while other legal issues are resolved.
Heyburn noted in his decision that some grocers have obtained retail package liquor licenses to open a separate store on the same site, which, he wrote, “demonstrates the financial burdens a grocery store must undertake to sell wine and liquor.” The state currently requires grocers to have a separate entrance and shop to sell alcoholic beverages.
Heyburn’s ruling affects only parts of Kentucky where sales of package wine and distilled spirits are allowed by law. The Frankfort-based Food with Wine Coalition said the state now joins a list of about 36 other states that permit shoppers to buy wine and spirits at the same stores where they purchase food, and added that the ruling “vindicates the members’ belief in the unjustifiably discriminatory nature of the state statute.”
In a 2011 federal lawsuit filed by the coalition and Louisville convenience store Maxwell's Pic-Pac, the plaintiffs said the law treated food retailers differently from liquor stores. According to Heyburn, there's no rational basis for not permitting grocers and gas stations to apply for the limited number of licenses available.
The judge's ruling comes just ahead of the inaugural meeting of The Governor’s Task Force on the Study of Alcoholic Beverage Control Laws in Kentucky, a 20-member panel of lawmakers, activists, Alcoholic Beverage Control department administrators and industry figures who will look into whether and how the state's liquor laws could be changed.