Federal court declares federal ban on at-home distilling unconstitutional

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Late last night, after months of litigation, a federal court in Texas decided the federal ban on at-home distillation of beverage spirits is unconstitutional. The district court’s decision is fair; it is correct on the law; and it is historic.

Lawyers at the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) represent several amateur home-distilling enthusiasts who want to pursue the essentially harmless hobby of at-home distilling of beverage spirits for personal use without the looming threat of legal sanctions. Under federal law, distilling in one’s home or backyard can result in a $10,000 fine and a five-year imprisonment.

The court found that:

  • The federal ban on home distilling exceeds the scope of the federal government’s limited powers.
  • The Constitution’s tax power does not allow the federal government to ban home distilling, largely because the ban does not add money into the federal treasury or protect federal tax revenue.
  • The Constitution’s power to regulate interstate commerce does not allow the federal government to ban home distilling, largely because the ban neither regulates interstate commerce directly nor is it related to any larger regulatory scheme.

This decision does not affect the regulatory powers of state governments; the states’ powers to regulate health and safety matters, and thus to regulate home distilling, are untouched by this decision.

“This decision is a victory for personal freedoms and for federalism,” said CEI General Counsel and plaintiffs’ attorney Dan Greenberg. “We’re pleased to see that the court determined that the home distilling ban is unconstitutional – and that it blocked enforcement of the ban against our clients. More broadly, the court’s decision reminds us that, as Americans, we live under a government of limited powers.”

“While the federal government has become more enthusiastic about inflating the scope of its powers over the last century, this case shows that there are limits to the government’s authority,” said CEI attorney and plaintiffs’ attorney Devin Watkins. “If the government appeals this decision to a higher court, we look forward to illuminating those limits.”

The court chose to stay the application of its order for fourteen days so that the government may seek emergency relief at the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. The court also determined that some, but not all, plaintiffs in the case lacked standing in the case and therefore dismissed them from it. The remaining plaintiffs are one corporation and one person: that is, the Hobby Distillers Association – a group with roughly 1,300 members nationwide – and Scott McNutt. The court has enjoined enforcement of the distilling ban against McNutt, the Association, and the Association’s members.

For more information on this case, please visit CEI.org.