CEI sues to end federal at-home distilling ban

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The Competitive Enterprise Institute, which regularly litigates against federal overreach, represents the Hobby Distillers Association and its members in a lawsuit seeking an end to the federal ban on at-home distilling. Our four individual clients – Rick Morris, Scott McNutt, John Prince, and Thomas Cowdrey – appreciate the historic nature of this lawsuit about the right to at-home distillation. These are not profit-seeking commercial distillers. They are ordinary people with a passion for distilling who just want to pursue a harmless hobby at home without fearing legal consequences.

Rick Morris, founder of the Hobby Distillers Association, has long advocated an end to the ban on at-home distillation. Larger commercial distillers have blocked legislative change, perhaps because they perceive home distillers as potential competitors. The lack of legislative change has led Morris and others to pursue litigation, because they believe that the federal ban on at-home distilling exceeds the bounds of congressional authority.

The plaintiffs argue that the federal government’s regulatory reach does not extend to activities conducted solely within the confines of one’s home. While Congress may possess the power to regulate interstate commerce, the act of at-home distillation is outside the scope of interstate commerce. As individuals intent on crafting spirits for personal consumption, the plaintiffs have no intention of engaging in interstate trade, which means that the federal ban cannot rest upon the federal government’s authority to regulate interstate commerce.

There is a tax on distilling alcohol that the plaintiffs are willing to pay. However, even though they are willing to pay taxes on home-distilled alcohol, the federal government won’t give them the permit, which would be the predecessor to accepting their money. Because the at-home distilling ban is not used to ensure taxes are collected—but instead blocks such taxes—the government cannot use the taxing power to authorize the at-home distilling ban.

Furthermore, the distinction between permitted at-home distillation for fuel as compared to the prohibited at-home distillation for the creation of beverages appears particularly arbitrary. The notion that individuals can legally distill alcohol for fuel use but not for personal enjoyment appears to be irrational and unrelated to any federal purpose.

The regulation of at-home distilling is a matter for the states. If the government were to concede that states have the exclusive authority to regulate such activities, this would demonstrate respect for the principles of federalism that our Constitution demands.

The plaintiffs’ request for a preliminary injunction reflects a broader struggle to defend personal freedoms and uphold the federalism at the center of our Constitution’s design. By challenging the federal ban on at-home distillation, CEI attorneys seek to safeguard their clients’ rights and secure a future where hobbyists can pursue their passions without fear of federal interference.