The Tennessee retailers — who, unlike the national association, favor the residency requirement — argue that the Granholm decision applies only to wine producers, not to retailers. If the court accepts that argument, it will end immediate consumer hopes of regaining access to a wider selection of wines.
Richard L. Colbert, a lawyer for the Tennessee retailers, declined to comment on the case. But Mr. Clement, who served as United States solicitor general from 2005 through 2008, asserts that Granholm should logically extend to wine retailers.
“Your typical winery has a production function and a retail function, and Granholm’s focus was on the retail side,” Mr. Clement said. “The interstate activity protected by Granholm wasn’t production, it was sales.”
Another recent case, Lebamoff v. Rauner, also challenged restrictions on interstate retail shipments. In that case, the Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, in Chicago, rejected the argument that Granholm drew a clear distinction between producers and retailers. The importance of that opinion, though, will depend on how the Supreme Court rules in the Blair case.
Because of the arcane nature of the case, it is difficult to speculate along political lines what the court will do.
“All the normal left-right stuff just goes out the window,” Mr. Clement said. “It becomes very difficult to predict, especially since there’s been a significant turnover in the court since Granholm.”
Of the nine justices in the 5-to-4 Granholm decision, only three remain: Justice Clarence Thomas, who dissented, and Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen G. Breyer, who sided with the majority.