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News-Sentinel.com Your Town. Your Voice.
Opening Arguments

Running hot on cold

An interesting question:

Indiana is the only state that gives liquor stores a monopoly on retail cold beer sales. And with liquor stores closed on Sundays, people who want cold beer need to plan ahead or slip across the state line.

In its lawsuit filed earlier this month, the Indiana Petroleum Marketers and Convenience Store Association claims the restriction on cold beer sales violates the equal protection guarantees of both the U.S. and Indiana constitutions.

If that's the case, why should Indiana have any alcohol sales restrictions at all? There's a very good reason, one that risks being forgotten in the march of time since the end of Prohibition.

Homer Simpson's line, "To alcohol! The cause of ... and solution to ... all of life's problems," is worth remembering because it rings so true. People who drink to drown their sorrows often learn too late that their drinking causes even more sorrows.

Alcohol fuels all sorts of bad behavior, and the ready availability of cold beer could fan those flames.

I don't mean the editorial's rhetorical device of asking, "Why should Indiana have any restrictions at all?" so it can blithely answer, "So we don't fan the flames of bad behavior." The fact that a minority might abuse a privilege is never a good reason to withhold the privilege from everybody.

I mean the lawsuit's claim that the continued ban violates equal protection guarantees. Certainly it does that in a general sense -- liquor stores are being given an advantage not enjoyed by the other retail outlets. But that term has had a specific legal meaning that has evolved since its inclusion in the 14th Amendment. There has of course been dispute about what is and isn't covered by that amendment, but it's generally agreed that it prohibits denying individuals a fundamental right that should be honored for all. I wouldn't think the right to sell cold beer is even in the same area code of "fundamental rights," let alone the same neighborhood.

But as a good libertarian, my instincts are to be highly suspicious of any law that affects just one subset of people rather than the general population. That's always a signal that the forces of special interests are at work, not the search for a benefit to the general welfare that should be the lawmakers' primary interest.