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Eye On Boise

Washington D.C. law prof goes to bat for Five Wives Vodka, threatens federal lawsuit against state

An attorney and law professor at George Washington University Law School has sent a letter to the Idaho State Liquor Division demanding that it reconsider its decision not to allow the sale of "Five Wives" vodka in Idaho within 10 days, or face a federal lawsuit. The vodka, made by Ogden's Own Distillery in Utah, was rejected both for general sale in Idaho's state liquor stores and for special orders, in part because the division said the brand was offensive to a prominent segment of Idaho's population; about a quarter of Idaho's population is Mormon.

"The actions of the agency constitute flagrant violations of the United States Constitution," the attorney, Jonathan Turley, wrote in the five-page letter, adding, "Your action reflects not only an unconstitutional purpose in barring this product, but an equally unconstitutional underlying policy that gives you the alleged authority to bar products that you deem offensive." The vodka, which features a label showing five women hiking up their long skirts, is approved for sale in Utah's state-run liquor stores.

State Liquor Division Director Jeff Anderson said of the letter, "I received it, and I have no comment." He said he is consulting with legal counsel. Click below for a full report from AP reporter Jessica Gresko in Washington, D.C., who reports that Ogden's Own Distillery spokesman Steve Conlin said today the company would sue Idaho on principle if necessary.

Lawsuit threatened over ban on 'Five Wives Vodka'
By JESSICA GRESKO, Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — Idaho officials may face a sobering lawsuit over their ban on a vodka that makes a cheeky reference to polygamy, a Washington law professor says.

In a letter dated Wednesday and published on his website, George Washington University professor Jonathan Turley informs Idaho officials he will sue on behalf of the producer of Five Wives Vodka if the state doesn't reverse its decision not to allow the vodka's sale. He says the ban is unconstitutional and he gives the state 10 days to reverse its position.

Idaho State Liquor Division director Jeff Anderson said last month that the brand is offensive to Mormons who make up more than a quarter of Idaho's population and would not be sold in the state. The Mormon church at one time allowed polygamy but abandoned the practice in 1890. Anderson did not immediately respond to a request for comment Wednesday.

"Idaho is the only state to raise religious and social sensibilities as a basis to deny entry to this product," Turley wrote in his letter.

He said that a lawsuit would raise issues of free speech and other claims.

Idaho has defended its decision not to allow Five Wives Vodka, saying state liquor stores already make hundreds of vodka brands available for sale and don't have room for another brand priced at around $20 a bottle.

Five Wives Vodka is made by Ogden's Own Distillery in Utah, where the Mormon church is based, and was first sold in Utah in December 2011. It is available in Utah and Wyoming and will soon be sold in Montana, Colorado and other states.

A spokesman for Five Wives Vodka, Steve Conlin, said Wednesday that the company wasn't seeking to make fun of anyone with its brand name, though it knew people would make the association with polygamy. He said the company would sue Idaho on principle if necessary.

"They shouldn't be able to ban a product based on its packaging without substantial reasoning," he said.

Turley has been involved in a lawsuit involving polygamy before. He represents the family of Kody Brown, a star of the reality TV show "Sister Wives," which follows Brown and his four wives. Brown, a former Utah resident, had sued in Utah, claiming the state's bigamy statute violates the family's constitutional rights.


Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.

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Betsy Z. Russell
Betsy Z. Russell joined The Spokesman-Review in 1991. She currently is a reporter in the Boise Bureau covering Idaho state government and politics, and other news from Idaho's state capital.

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