Seventh Circuit upholds Indiana's "cold-beer" law

Duff Beer in São Paulo, Brazil (credit: Wally Gobetz / flickr)

This is a challenge to Indiana’s cold-beer law. In Indiana, licensed convenience stores are generally allowed to sell beer for consumption off the premises. In a strange twist, though, convenience stores aren’t allowed to sell cold beer—or, in the solemn words of the statute, “beer that was iced or cooled by the permittee before or at the time of sale.” Liquor stores, by contrast, are allowed to sell cold beer. A trade group for Indiana convenience stores says that this distinction violates the Equal Protection Clause. 

Applying the rational-basis test’s forgiving standard, the Seventh Circuit upholds the law. Liquor stores are more heavily regulated than convenience stores. Hence, Indiana could rationally believe that limiting immediately consumable (i.e., cold) beer to liquor stores could curb underage beer consumption. The court also notes, however, that Indiana can’t defend the law merely by relying on the Twenty-first Amendment, the amendment that did away with Prohibition. While the Twenty-first Amendment allows states to regulate alcohol strictly—and even to ban it entirely—it’s not meant to immunize alcohol regulations from the Equal Protection Clause. An alcohol law that established a truly irrational distinction would still be unconstitutional. But this law is not that.