updated 3/8/2004 7:32:53 PM ET 2004-03-09T00:32:53

In a case that's getting more complex than an aged cabernet, attorneys are asking the Supreme Court to consider whether states can continue to ban direct shipments of alcohol from out-of-state vineyards.

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On Monday, the Washington-based Institute for Justice asked the Supreme Court to consider overturning a ruling by the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which recently upheld New York's ban on direct shipments of alcohol to individual consumers. The institute is representing a small Virginia winery that wants to sell wine to out-of-state buyers.

The request came days after 36 state attorneys general filed a brief urging the Supreme Court to overturn a 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that declared Michigan's ban on direct shipments unconstitutional.

The attorneys general say conflicting court rulings in Michigan, New York and elsewhere make it unclear whether alcohol shipments are governed by the Constitution's 21st Amendment or by its commerce clause. The amendment, which overturned Prohibition, allows states to regulate alcohol, and the commerce clause says that only Congress can regulate interstate trade.

They also say states need new direction since the Internet has made it easier to buy alcohol across state lines.

The Supreme Court has yet to say whether it will hear either case.

Michigan is among 20 states that requires out-of-state alcohol to be sold through licensed wholesalers or vendors but has no similar rules for in-state wineries. New York doesn't allow direct sales for either in-state or out-of-state wineries.

Supporters of the bans say states need regulatory systems to collect taxes and ensure minors can't buy alcohol.

"The vast majority of states recognize that we'll have alcohol anarchy if the influential, billion-dollar wine industry succeeds in getting alcohol sales to become unregulated, unaccountable and anonymous," said Juanita Duggan, president of the Wine & Spirits Wholesalers Association.

The Michigan case is 03-1116.

Copyright 2004 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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