Federal lawsuit filed against the state over liquor laws

Posted at 12:07 AM, Jan 24, 2012
and last updated 2012-02-28 12:33:02-05

State attorneys say a federal lawsuit filed by the Utah Hospitality Association should be thrown out. That lawsuit claims a ban on bar happy-hours and limiting liquor licenses violates federal anti-trust laws.

Utah lawmakers decided to make discounted drinks at happy hour illegal in Utah and they continue to limit the number of liquor licenses that can be awarded.

The Utah Hospitality Association says they hurt local businesses by limiting their ability to do business and violating federal law.

"It's really frustrating because right now in the state of Utah if you drink it's almost like you're a lower-class citizen," says UHA President Trenton David. "If you look at all the legislation that they've done, they have stepped us back."

David says the association will fight efforts by attorneys for the state of Utah to have an anti-trust lawsuit thrown out.

Civil rights attorney Brian Barnard says it will be interesting to see how the federal judge looks at the argument in the anti-trust lawsuit. The association argues that banning happy hours and limiting liquor licenses interfered with healthy competition and free enterprise in the state.

"The legislature can pass all the laws they want, even if they're stupid. Federal courts don't overrule laws because they're not rational, it's only if they're unconstitutional," said David.

Barnard will not predict whether or not the suit will be thrown out, but is optimistic about its chances.

"It'll be an uphill battle. It's something that hasn't been brought before a federal court in Utah before," said the civil rights attorney.

David says if the lawsuit does not go forward, he will still fight for more normalized liquor laws in Utah.

"I'm really hoping that both sides get together and come up with some smart liquor legislation that help all of us," David says.

The federal judge should decide on whether the case will be seen in the next few weeks.