A certain amount of mirth, we gather, is greeting the case of Swedenburg v. Kelly, which we think of around here as an Internet-era version of "Smokey and the Bandit." That's a reference to the hilarious 1977 movie starring Burt Reynolds as the "Bandit" (his citizen's band radio handle). The Bandit smuggles a tractor-trailer-load of beer to Georgia from Texas. He is pursued by a buffoon of a sheriff, Buford T. Justice, whose handle is "Smokey" and who is played by Jackie Gleason. The movie was a populist paean to the notion that it is ridiculous for the states to be interfering with the transfer of beer back and forth. The case of Swedenburg v. Kelly, which is being heard in New York, is about the right of New Yorkers — and by extension, others — to purchase out-of-state wine over the Internet.
In this case, the part of Sheriff Buford T. Justice is being played by New York liquor wholesalers, in hot pursuit of New York residents who are making off with the wholesalers' heretofore guaranteed cut on every bottle of wine shipped into the state. Playing the part of the Bandit is Clint Bolick, vice president of a libertarian legal foundation, the Institute for Justice. He represents a group of local oenophiles and small outof-state vintners, who want nothing more than to trade with each other without the State of New York getting in the way. The Buford Justices of the case are warning of the danger that anyone with a computer could buy out-of-state wine direct from a vineyard.
Mr. Bolick, however, is careening around in one of our favorite of all constitutional hot rods, the Commerce Clause. It is the clause in which the founders of America delegated to Congress the power to regulate interstate commerce, meaning to create open national markets and to prohibit discriminatory trade legislation among the states. There are those of us who reckon that as much as any series of words in the Constitution and more than most, the Commerce Clause enabled the building of a unified, powerful and prosperous America from the group of squabbling states that existed before ratification. The federal judge hearing the case doesn't seem to have a lot of sympathy for this notion, but it's early yet. We'd encourage him to rent a copy of the movie and settle down on his couch, with some popcorn and a good bottle of wine.