SALT LAKE CITY -- Utah has authority to prevent beer taverns and liquor clubs from offering happy hour discounts, state attorneys said in a court filing defending peculiar regulations governing liquor in a state dominated by teetotaling Mormons.
A trade group for bars and restaurants filed the federal antitrust lawsuit in June, arguing that the happy hour ban amounted to price fixing by state authorities.
The Utah Hospitality Association amended its lawsuit in October to seek a court order that would prohibit Utah legislators from taking influence from the LDS Church when writing liquor laws.
In a court filing Thursday, the Utah Attorney General's Office asked U.S. District Judge Bruce S. Jenkins to throw out the lawsuit.
Because the happy hour ban is applied uniformly throughout Utah, the state argues, it doesn't violate antitrust law. The restriction "is a proper exercise of the state of Utah's right to control the importation and distribution of alcoholic beverages under the 21st Amendment," the state lawyers wrote.
The industry is targeting the latest changes to Utah's liquor laws, a 197-page piece of legislation enacted last year that, among other things, limits to 2 liters the size of a "heavy beer" container that can be sold in state liquor stores.
Retailers can sell only light beer, with less than 4 percent alcohol by volume.
But it was the ban on drinks sold at a "special or reduced price" that drew the ire of Utah's bars, along with new limits on coveted liquor licenses.
The quotas are tied to municipal population counts and the number of police officers available to enforce alcohol offenses.
State lawyers defended the quotas as legal because they are enforced uniformly.
They also defended the influence of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on Utah's liquor laws, which are expansive and precise when it comes to pouring drinks. A single serving of wine, for instance, cannot exceed 5 ounces.
"The LDS Church's practice of offering its view to legislators on SB (Senate Bill) 314 does not void SB 314 as an unconstitutional violation because, under the state and federal constitutions, religious groups and individuals have a right to participate in the political process," state lawyers wrote.