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Judge Sparks’ Greatest Hits!

And now for the lighter side. As I alluded to previously, Judge Sparks’ judgement is full of all kinds of funny lines. If this whole judging thing ever gets old to him, he’s got a career in comedy.

Judge Sparks wastes no time getting into the humor (and a little jab), and offers this in his background on the case:

The practice of law is often dry, and it is the rare case that presents an issue of genuine interest to the public. This is just such a case, however. Dealing as it does with constitutional challenges to the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Code, it is anything but “dry”and this Court wouldnever be so foolish as to question the sincerity of Texans’ interest in beer.

Given this obvious public interest, it is both surprising, and unfortunate for proponents of the Alcoholic Beverage Code, that the State of Texas does not appear to have taken as much of an interest in this case as it might have.

Judge Sparks did limit comedy to his commentary, and titled one section of his Judgement as:

2. Beers and Liquors and Wines, Oh My!

On the defense’s argument that The Texas Alcoholic Beverage Code is constitution because it is the Texas Alcohol Beverage Code:

In a remarkable (though logically dubious) demonstration of circular reasoninga tactic it repeats throughout its briefing, and which it echoed in open court TABC attempts to defend the constitutional legitimacy of the Code through an appeal to the statutory authority of the Code itself.

On the idea that the state should have the authority to define words however the legislature sees fit (and in what can only be seen as a tip of the hat to Freetail Brewing Co… right?):

Second, TABC’s argument, combined with artful legislative drafting, could be used to justify any restriction on commercial speech. For instance, Texas would likely face no (legal) obstacle if it wished to pass a law defining the word “milk” to mean “a nocturnal flying mammal that eatsinsects and employs echolocation.” Under TABC’s logic, Texas would then be authorized not only to prohibit use of the word “milk” by producers of a certain liquid dairy product, but also to require Austin promoters to advertise the famous annual “Milk Festival” on the Congress Avenue bridge. Regardless of one’s feelings about milk or bats, this result is inconsistent with the guarantees of the First Amendment.

This one isn’t so humorous as it is an insight into the larger issue that I have dealt with extensively: the restrictions of brewpubs to sell their beer to distributors or retailers for resale based on 3-tier arguments. Judge Sparks questions whether or not the concerns purported by the WBDT as reasons for not letting brewpubs sell their beer to distributors and retailers is a valid one.

Although unquestionablytrue whenthe Code was first written, andthe evils oforganized crime’s involvement in the alcoholic beverage industry were both immediate and substantial, it is less clear that vertical integration of the alcoholic beverage industry still poses a grave threat to Texas’s interests. In any case, in light of wineries’ exemption from these regulations, this purported interest is suspect.

In response to the defendant’s argument that the “Beer” and “Ale” distinctions are important for consumers to know how strong a product is in terms of alcohol, the Court reponds (my favorite part highlighted by me):

Although a typical member of the public may not be able, off the cuff, to state the average alcohol content of popular Texas malt beverages, the Court is confident that same person could, if presented with the alcohol content of a variety of malt beverages, come to a reasonably quick and accurate conclusion regarding their average range. Having determined the average range, this person could then make an intelligent choice whether to deviate from that range, in which direction, and by how much. The Court simply does not share TABC’s apparently low estimation of Texans, and remains steadfast in its belief that they are capable of basic math.

On why TABC’s lawyers presented what appears to be a less-than-full effort:

Regrettably, TABC has almost wholly failed to submit such evidence, and has often failed even to respond to Authentic’s arguments. Whether this failure reflects a tactical error, laziness, an implicit concession that the Code cannot withstand constitutional scrutiny, an erroneous assumption that TABC is entitled to special treatment, or a mere oversight, the Court cannot say. However, under the circumstances here, the Court is obligated to grant summary judgment in favor of Authentic on its First Amendment challenges.

On why just because TABC doesn’t know why it enforces stuff, it doesn’t make it unconstitutional:

However, as noted above, the state need not come forward with any record evidence whatsoever in defense of the Code. Further, just because particular individuals within the Texas governmenteven those of high rank within the administrative agency that enforces the law may not be able to articulate a reason for the Code’s disparate treatment, that does not mean no reason exists. Indeed, although it may well be desirable, there is no constitutional requirement that a personwho enforces of a law must also know the legislative purpose behind it.

Again, on defendant’s level of effort in defense:

The Court is shocked and dismayed at the Texas Attorney General’s halfhearted conduct in this case. The very purpose of having the Attorney General’s Office defend suits like this, is so the State of Texas can vigorously defend its duly enacted legislative mandates. Here, however, when TABC responded to Authentic’s challenges at all, it responded with little in the way of argument, and even less in the way of relevant evidence. The State of Texas is lucky the burden of proof was on Authentic for many of its claims, or else the Alcoholic Beverage Code might have fared even worse than it has.

Final note: I don’t feel the Attorney General let the TABC down as much as Judge Sparks thinks they did. Judge Sparks thinks the AG left arguments on the table, but I would contend THERE WERE NO ARGUMENTS TO PUT ON THE TABLE!

Been a fun day. Cheers everyone.

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3 responses

  1. Pingback: Update: Judge Strikes Down Texas’ Irrational Speech Limits on Beer Promotion « The Legal Pulse

  2. We were pleased to commend our readers to this great post at our own post on Judge Sparks’ ruling: http://wlflegalpulse.com/2011/12/20/update-judge-strikes-down-texas-irrational-speech-limits-on-beer-promotion/, and I have enjoyed reading your coverage of and commentary on the legal fight.
    Glenn Lammi
    Washington Legal Foundation
    Washington DC
    glammi@wlf.org

    December 20, 2011 at 2:36 pm

  3. For those enjoying the comedic stylings of Judge Sam Sparks, here are some more of his greatest hits, as provided by twitter user @TimAllenOFA

    http://scholar.google.com/scholar_case?case=1940243551778254161&q=Klein-Becker,+LLC+v.+Stanley+A-03-CA-871-SS&hl=en&as_sdt=2,5&as_vis=1&scilh=0

    Cheers

    December 20, 2011 at 3:31 pm

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