by Ron Gholson
The Alabama Supreme Court met Thursday in special session at Samford University’s Wright Center to hear an appeal of the ruling that cleared the way last year for Blount County municipalities to hold wet/dry “municipal option” referenda.
The appeal was filed last December by Oneonta ministers Larry Gipson and Glenn Bynum on behalf of Keep Blount County Special, a local group opposing the sale of liquor locally.
Since the ruling last November by Blount County Circuit Court Judge Steven King, four municipalities in the county have held wet/dry elections. Three have approved alcohol sale, and it is currently being sold within the city limits of Oneonta and Blountsville. Last week, Cleveland voted to go wet, and Locust Fork voted to remain dry.
In last Thursday’s session, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments presented by plaintiffs’ counsel Eric Johnson of Birmingham, and by attorney Alex Smith of Oneonta for the defendants, the City of Oneonta and others.
Without entering into the numerous technical details of opposing arguments, the basic question to be decided is whether a portion of the legislative act authorizing municipalities of 1000 or more to hold municipal option elections to allow sale of alcohol can be found unconstitutional, without the entire act being declared unconstitutional.
Plaintiffs argue that since a portion of the law has been ruled unconstitutional, the entire law is necessarily unconstitutional. If that is the case, then more than 30 municipalities statewide that have already approved alcohol sale under its provisions, have in effect, acted unlawfully. What remedy, if any, that might apply to them is not known.
Defendants take the opposite view: that once the offending language excluding Blount and two other counties is removed from the law, allowing them to benefit equally with the other 64 counties in being allowed to hold municipal option elections, the remainder of the law – allowing all municipalities larger than 1000 in population in the state to hold municipal option elections – is constitutional as written.
That is the question the Supreme Court will decide.
A decision is expected “sometime within a few weeks to a few months,” according to Reid.