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Judge on Connecticut liquor law: perhaps unwise, but not our call

When the topic of Connecticut liquor law comes up in commentary or conversation, the focus often turns quickly to the state's tight and comprehensive control of alcohol sales.

In such context, the word "complex" commonly emerges. Readers can quickly spot it on a relevant page of our website at the proven liquor law firm of Berdon, Young & Margolis, PC, in New Haven. The "Safely Navigating Liquor Law" heading on that page serves unequivocal notice that Connecticut regulators have enacted a singularly detailed and layered scheme for controlling alcohol pricing and sales within the state.

And, as noted in a recent Hartford Courant article, the "very intricate set of regulations" applicable to pricing and sales has been firmly in place for decades.

Its oft-cited objective is to protect so-called "mom and pop" stores that compete with larger entities in the industry.

Not everyone is a fan.

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy has been a long-time critic, but his efforts to repeal minimum pricing rules have failed owing to strong resistance encountered from powerful lobbyists and other advocates who support smaller operators.

A spokesperson for Malloy calls liquor industry policies "arbitrary" and says that an increased ability for sellers to set prices would benefit consumers and yield significant revenue for state coffers.

Although Connecticut's regulatory liquor scheme engenders both comment and debate, notes one judge, its logic and fairness are not matters to be entertained by the federal courts.

That judicial response has flatly disappointed mega-retailer Total Wine & More, which recently filed a complaint arguing that Connecticut's minimum pricing scheme violates federal laws barring activities that adversely impact business competition and interstate commerce.

The court responded by ruling that state policies do not implicate federal questions relevant to antitrust laws. Connecticut's liquor scheme, held the court, is a local matter that cannot be preempted by federal regulations.

If change is to come, wrote Chief U.S. District Judge Janet C. Hall, it must be authored by state authorities.

The wisdom of Connecticut's liquor laws, stated Hall, "is not a question for this court."

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