End of Whiteclay beer sales assured by Nebraska Supreme Court Opinion

Sept. 29, 2017, 12:30 p.m. ·


After decades of complaints about Whiteclay, Nebraska, a Nebraska Supreme Court ruling guaranteed the four beer stores in the tiny border town will close forever.

Whiteclay protester at the State Capitol in August.

David Domina argues the Whiteclay case before Supreme Court.

The beer stores, despite its remote location, sold more than 3 million containers of beer annually. The primary market was Native Americans traveling across the South Dakota border from the Pine Ridge Reservation. It is illegal to sell alcohol on the reservation.

The stores have been closed since April.

“It’s a large victory for in the legal system, but it’s a small victory for our relatives up there,” said Chandra Walker, a member of the Omaha Tribe and vocal opponent of the beer sales. “The liquor stores did generations of damage and it’s going to get everybody healthy again.”

The Supreme Court’s unanimous decision hinged on a point of law concerning how the four beer stores proceeded with their challenge of the Liquor Control Commission’s authority. It had the effect of stripping the stores of the state licenses allowing them to sell alcohol. The commission had concluded there was an insufficient law enforcement presence in Whiteclay to assure public safety.

“The often unremarkable process of renewing a liquor license has involved considerable controversy for the four beer retailers in this case,” wrote Justice John F. Wright in the opinion. He wrote later “our decision does not address the merits of the parties’ respective positions, but rests solely on jurisdictional grounds.”

According to the opinion “the retailers failed to include all parties of record in the Commission proceeding when they sought review in the district court.” When the attorney for the beer store owners filed his challenge to the state’s action, he named the commission and the state Attorney General Doug Peterson in the complaint. Not included were the Nebraska residents who raised the issues of public safety. Because they were a “part of record” who brought their concerns before the state agency, the Supreme Court decided they should have been part of the appeal. As a result, according to the opinion, the district court never had the jurisdiction to decide the matter.

The attorney representing citizens in opposition to the beer sales, David Domina, told NET News “there is no life left in any attempt to renew the liquor licenses.”

Andrew Snyder, attorney for the four beer store owners was out of the office and had not returned a phone message. Calls to the store owners were not returned.

“I do think it’s a really good thing to have a shameful chapter in Nebraska history come to a close,” Domina said.

“Everyone knows there is more work to be done,” Domina added. "There is so much encouragement at removing these and more progress made.”

Nate Grasz, the policy director of Nebraska Family Alliance agreed closing the stores “is the first step in a long journey of addressing the issues surrounding alcohol in Whiteclay.”

In a prepared statement, Grasz said he hoped the moment represented “a turning point” for the Pine Ridge Reservation, citing “heartbreaking statistics” that indicate 1 in 4 babies are born with fetal alcohol syndrome on Pine Ridge. The plight of those children, Grasz said, “won't change overnight.”

A summit meeting of parties looking for solutions for alcohol-related issues scheduled weeks before the opinion was released was to begin Friday in Pine Ridge.