The Oklahoma Supreme Court declined to assume original jurisdiction in a battle among alcohol distributors and referred the matter to Oklahoma County District Court on Monday.
The suit brought by the state’s and nation’s leading alcohol distributors and other interested parties asks the courts to block legislation passed during this spring’s legislative session that would require the 25 most popular brands to be made available to all wholesalers at the same price.
Gov. Kevin Stitt and the Alcoholic Beverage Licensing Commission are the named defendants in the suit.
The challenged law, Senate Bill 608, was introduced at the behest of Tulsa-based Boardwalk Distribution, which complained it was being squeezed out of the market by changes to the state’s alcohol laws included in a 2016 constitutional amendment and supporting legislation.
Those changes allowed manufacturers to have exclusive or limited arrangements with distributors. Boardwalk maintains the result has been that the state’s two largest distributors, Jarboe and Central, and their national affiliates control the major brands of wine and spirits.
Jarboe and Central are among the plaintiffs in the ongoing suit, which claims SB 608 is unconstitutional.
John Maisch, head of the trade group Institute for Responsible Alcohol Policy, said the fight will continue.
“We believe that Senate Bill 608 is both unconstitutional and will create chaos in the alcohol distribution industry — ultimately harming consumers,” Maisch said. “Because the Court did not rule on the merits of the case, we plan to continue our challenge before the district court.
“Many businesses invested in the alcohol distribution system voters overwhelmingly approved in 2016, and those Oklahoma companies should not be punished for their efforts,” he said.
Boardwalk owner Bryan Hendershot said he believed the ruling was promising for his side.
“We’re very pleased with the Supreme Court’s decision, and we’re pleased they took no action to block the implementation of Senate Bill 608,” said Hendershot. “The other side has failed to convince the House of Representatives, the Senate and the Governor that SB 608 is unconstitutional and now the Supreme Court has refused to even hear the case.”
SB 608 becomes effective Aug. 21.
Tulsa City Councilors offered a forum recently on the Equality Indicators report, which uses 54 equality measures that compare outcomes of groups likely to experience inequalities.