Beyond the Books

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Wednesday, June 6, 2012 5:34 p.m.

Law professor to defend vodka company banned for offending Mormons

A GW Law School professor will take the lead in a potential lawsuit pitting the state of Idaho against a vodka company – a company state officials say has a brand name offensive to Mormons.

Jonathan Turley

Jonathan Turley, a public interest law professor, said Wednesday that he will represent Ogden’s Own Distillery if Idaho does not lift the ban of the company’s Five Wives Vodka from stores’ shelves.

Idaho State Liquor Division administrator Jeff Anderson said last month that the vodka’s name and logo – which references polygamy – could offend the state’s sizeable Mormon population. The state subsequently blocked liquor stores from carrying vodka made by the Utah-based distillery.

Turley said the case, which could head to court if state officials do not reverse their decision, raises free speech and due process issues.

“The use of religious sensibilities to bar a product is particularly troublesome and, in our view, contravenes a number of core constitutional protections,” Turley said. “The state is arguing that it may ban any product if it is insulting to a segment of the population.  Such a power is not only unconstitutional but dangerous.”

Turley wrote on his blog that he sent a letter Wednesday to Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden and Director of the Idaho State Liquor Division Jeffrey Anderson demanding that liquor stores be able to stock Five Wives Vodka, or the state will face a lawsuit.

“Unlike your vodka of choice, your power is not absolute,” Turley wrote in the letter, referring to Absolut, the vodka produced in Sweden. “We have a court system designed to protect citizens and companies from arbitrary and abusive governmental actions.”

The law professor, who holds an endowed chair, was the lead litigator for another lawsuit involving polygamy this year. His challenge of the state of Utah’s polygamy law defended reality show stars from TLC’s “Sister Wives.”