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Seventh Circuit Just Says No to Cold Beer

CHICAGO (CN) - Gas station convenience stores' claims that "beer is beer" could not persuade the Seventh Circuit to overturn an Indiana ban on the sale of cold beer at those outlets.

A unanimous three-judge panel on Monday rejected the appeal from the Indiana Petroleum Marketers and Convenience Store Association.

The law restricting the sale of cold beer to packaged liquor stores was an attempt to curb underage drinking. Liquor stores require workers to be 21 years old, and are more highly regulated than grocery and convenience stores.

The complaining stores operate with "beer dealer's" permits - for sale of beer to be consumed off the premises - as opposed to hotels or clubs, which operate with "beer retailer's" permits.

The retailers called it unfair treatment of a single product - beer. They claimed it violated their right to equal protection.

They also claimed that it made no sense that they could sell cold wine coolers, which often have higher alcohol content than beer, and said that grocery and convenience stores have a good track record of complying with alcohol laws.

The Seventh Circuit didn't buy it, and affirmed the ruling from the Indianapolis Federal Court.

Seventh Circuit Judge Diane Sykes wrote that the retailers did not undermine the rational basis for the law, which the court must give "a strong presumption of validity." To successfully challenge the law, she wrote, the appellants must "negative every conceivable basis which might support it." (Using negative as a verb.)

Because the law's purpose is to stop the underage purchase of alcohol, it does not violate equal protection.

"The Association's policy arguments for allowing cold-beer sales by grocery and convenience stores are matters for the Indiana Legislature, not the federal judiciary," Sykes wrote.

It was a second attack on Indiana alcohol laws this year, as Hoosiers hoped the Legislature would pass a bill lifting a statewide ban on Sunday in-store alcohol sales.

The bill failed, mired in restrictions that would have required stores to keep hard liquor behind the counter, and limit other forms of alcohol to specially designated areas.

Many state liquor stores opposed Sunday sales, saying it would increase costs without significantly increasing revenue.

Seventh Circuit Judges Kenneth Ripple and Ann Williams agreed with Sykes.

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