Last fall I bet Say Uncle a black and tan that George W. Bush wouldn’t get re-elected. It seemed like a safe enough bet at the time, as it was illegal to mail alcohol into Tennessee but not California. Meaning, if I win, he pays up, if he wins, oh darn, I’d love to pay up but that would be, like, illegal.
All this was complicated by today’s Supreme Court ruling, which held that laws prohibiting direct interstate shipment of wine are unconstitutional. For some strange reason, Justice Scalia voted with the majority while his alleged sock puppet,* Clarence Thomas, wrote the leading dissent. Never mind that. What matters is that today’s decision is probably too narrow to affect Uncly’s ability to collect on his debt. For one thing, the decision applies only to wine, not to beer. [As silly as that sounds, it’s no sillier than the notion that professional football is interstate commerce while professional baseball isn’t – an issue common sense cleared up decades ago but the courts still haven’t.] For another, while I’ve not read Tennessee’s law, my understanding from Uncle’s own comments is that it prohibits all direct shipment of all alcohol products, not just those from other states. To the extent that Tennessee’s law is equally bad for domestic and foreign liquor alike, it is non-discriminatory, and thus outside the ambit of today’s decision. From the penultimate paragraph on p. 30 of the majority decision:
States have broad power to regulate liquor under §2 of the Twenty-first Amendment. This power, however, does not allow States to ban, or severely limit, the direct shipment by out-of-state wine while simultaneously authorizing direct shipment by in-state producers. If a State chooses to allow direct shipment of wine, it must do so on evenhanded terms. Without demonstrating the need for discrimination, New York and Michigan have enacted regulations that disadvantage out-of-state wine producers. Under our Commerce Clause jurisprudence, these regulations cannot stand.
Sorry, Uncly-Wuncly, but it looks like you’ll still have to come out here to collect on your debt. Looking on the bright side, your trip will be worth it, as I know a place in Irvine that has a selection like you’ve never seen.
*In case my use of the phrase “sock puppet” has you curious, the answer is yes, John Lott does have one of them on the Supreme Court, too. Ironically, his puppet is the one you’d least expect, John Paul Stevens. Justice Stevens is generally regarded as the Court’s most liberal member, but the final sentence of the final paragraph of his separate defense (p. 5) gives the game away:
As JUSTICE THOMAS has demonstrated, the text of the Twenty-first Amendment is a far more reliable guide to this meaning than the unwritten rules that the majority enforces today. I therefore join his persuasive and comprehensive dissenting opinion.
As noted Australian computer science professor cum linguistic detective Tim Lambert has aptly demonstrated, any use of the word “comprehensive” is stylistic proof that the writer is really John R. Lott, Jr.
UPDATE: Professor Bainbridge has a similar take on today’s ruling, except that in his case, the other Tennessee blogger is on the losing end.
UPDATE x2: In the comments, Professor Lambert corrects me on my application of his theory of “style.” Apparently, gaining membership in the Lambert/Lott Sock Puppet Club is more difficult than I thought. Merely using the word “comprehensive” is not enough; you also have to …. um …. well, do something else. Lambert doesn’t actually say what that “else” is, but he does say is that whatever the other criteria may be, the sentences “This is by far the largest most comprehensive study on crime, let alone on gun control” and “This is by far the most comprehensive study ever done on guns” definitely meet them. My best guess is that in addition to using the word “comprehensive,” any would-be sock puppet must also (1) say “by far,” (2) use a superlative, (3) post his comment to a forum where his true identity cannot easily be proven or disproven and/or (4) discuss John Lott. By using the phrase “far more” rather than “by the far the most,” Justice Stevens came painfully close to meeting criteria #1 and #2, but didn’t quite pull them off, and he utterly failed #3 and #4. As Justice Stevens couldn’t possibly have known these rules in advance, I still give him an A for effort.
UPDATE x3: I swear to God, I did not make up any of the comments to this thread which appear under the name “Tim Lambert.” The last comment under his name did have a different IP address from the one I’m used to seeing, but it is from Australia, and Lambert himself insists that ISPs change your IP addresses on you all the time. Perhaps the other Australian Tim his having a little fun at his expense?
UPDATE x4: Volokh Conspirator Todd Zywicki also thinks Justice Stevens is a sock puppet, not of John Lott but of Abe Simpson. He may be on to something.