South Carolina House members chose to defy a state Supreme Court ruling, voting this week to restore a limit on liquor stores that the court ruled unconstitutional.
The House sent to the Senate on Thursday a proposal which would effectively restore the previous three-store limit per owner struck down by the court as unconstitutional in March 2017. South Carolina has been operating under a temporary compromise which keeps the old law in place until April so that those involved in the industry could come up with a new law. However, those efforts were not fruitful.
State Rep. Greg Delleney, R-Chester, said the House decided to reinstate the old law, this time specifically citing sections of the South Carolina Constitution they say gives the legislature the authority to regulate alcohol. Delleney noted two seats on the Supreme Court have been filled since last year’s 3-1 decision.
Delleney said legislators fear the court’s ruling would clear the way for large retailers such as Wal-Mart or Total Wines & More to swamp the market with underpriced liquor. “We just don’t think people want to walk into their grocery store with their children and see liquor on their shelves, or walk into their drug store and see it,” he told South Carolina Radio Network. “We think the (previous law) worked well and we want to see it continue to work.”
Other supporters of the limit argued it protects small business “mom-and-pop” stores from national retailers. “What we’re going to end up with is, quite frankly, all the liquor stores being Wal-Mart, CVS, Walgreens and the like,” State Rep. Cezar McKnight, D-Kingstree, said during floor debate.
Total Wine & More sued the state over the law after the Department of Revenue blocked the company’s efforts to build a fourth store in Aiken. Total Wine has existing stores in Charleston, Columbia and Greenville.
Despite the 106-1 vote, senators said they did not expect the chamber to agree with a simple return to the old law. “I can’t see the Senate going back to the old three-store rule,” State Sen. Sean Bennett, R-Dorchester, said. However, he added the caveat that he had not seen the House bill.