Utah Distillery To Challenge Idaho Ban On “Five Wives Vodka”

This morning, the Idaho Attorney General and Director of the Idaho State Liquor Division was informed that Ogden’s Own Distillery has retained my services to challenge the decision to block sales of “Five Wives Vodka” in Idaho. The businesses in Idaho were denied the right to “special order” the vodka because it was viewed as offensive to the large Mormon population in the state. The state also denied “general listing” to allow stores to sell the product. As on our other cases, I have to be circumspect on what I can say about the case in light of the pending litigation.

The letter below informs the state of the decision to seek judicial relief unless the state reverses its decision to block special orders as well as its policy to bar sales based on the need to protect religious sensibilities. The letter states in part:

Throughout this process, Ogden’s Own has tried to discuss and resolve any problems or concerns with your agency. They applied for entry into the Idaho market in good faith as they have done in other states. Idaho is the only state to raise religious and social sensibilities as a basis to deny entry to this product. To make matters worse, the agency proceeded to engage in public attacks on the company and its products. Mr. Wasserstein opted to inform third parties that the product was an insult to Mormons and later pledged that it would never be sold in the State of Idaho. He then expanded these attacks with criticism of the picture on the bottle, suggesting a bizarre misogynist hidden message. When public criticism grew over the use of religious sensibilities as a criterion for blocking the sale of a product, both Mr. Wasserstein and yourself proceeded to attack the quality of the vodka—disparaging both the product and the producers at this small distillery. Just last Friday, you were quoted attacking the product as “low class” and not “something we want to have on our shelf, sitting next to Absolut vodka.”

My clients would be the last to disagree with your praise and high regard for Absolut vodka. They have never disparaged other products. Just as the distillers in Sweden are rightfully proud of Absolut, the distillers of Ogden’s Own are equally proud of their product. While they are tiny in comparison to the Swedish company, these American distillers resent your suggestion that they should not be seen on the same shelf with Absolut. I am, frankly, astonished by the vitriol and venom directed at this small company because it had the temerity to ask to enter the Idaho market and then objected to being blocked by religious sensibilities.

There is no reason for Ogden’s Own to respond tit-for-tat to these public attacks by you and Mr. Wasserstein. Unlike your vodka of choice, your power is not absolute. We have a court system designed to protect citizens and companies from arbitrary and abusive governmental actions. It is clear from the continuing attacks from your office that nothing short of a lawsuit will compel your agency to reconsider its decision as well as its underlying policy.

I am honored to represent Ogden’s Own in what is an important case involving free speech and due process. We are committed to vindicating the rights of this small distillery and its right to market its product. This case may test the limits of the government in advancing the sectarian demands of any religious groups and the exercise of arbitrary power. Frankly, to paraphrase the Irish proverb, the exercise of arbitrary power “is sweet to drink but bitter to pay for.” I am remain hopeful that the state will reconsider its actions and allow bars and citizens in Idaho to buy to exercise their own judgment on buying this and other products.

Jonathan Turley

Here is the letter sent this morning to the Idaho officials: Letter.Anderson.Five Wives

47 thoughts on “Utah Distillery To Challenge Idaho Ban On “Five Wives Vodka”

  1. I would argue that the ad is not offensive because it does not bump the number up to the magic Eight Wives.

  2. Congratulations and good luck. If this rule is upheld Church’s will have a field day criminalizing criticism, satire and anything they don’t like.

  3. Must make a correction– churchs will have a field day….
    Automatic “correction” can be wrong.

  4. Did you not receive the memo from Attorney General Eric Holder informing you that secret Executive Branch deliberations constitute all the “process” due to you or anyone else?

    And just ignore that buzzing sound you hear overhead as you engage in “suspicious patterns of activity.” Nothing to worry about, as some posthumous evidence may come to light exonerating your memory.

  5. If this ends up like the last wives case JT was involved in, Idaho “Five Wives Vodka” lovers will not “stay thirsty my friends,” if you know what I mean.

  6. I have no idea why the Utah folks think it must be five current wives. There are lots of guys who have had five wives, and the reason for that may be overuse of the product advertised. So it may not be a good label for the vodka, or it may be their contribution to spreading a subliminal message to drink responsibly.

  7. I believe that you can boost the case by giving the label on the bottle a wee bit more substance under the First Amendment. The label is the medium, not the vodka. The label could include a famous quote from a famous man from Missouri who was not president but who was an explorer and wrote a book called Roughing It. Here is his message on mormon women and the great service their husbands do in taking more than one wife.

    From Roughing It:

    Our stay in Salt Lake City amounted to only two days, and therefore we had no time to make the customary inquisition into the workings of polygamy and get up the usual statistics and deductions preparatory to calling the attention of the nation at large once more to the matter.
    I had the will to do it. With the gushing self-sufficiency of youth I was feverish to plunge in headlong and achieve a great reform here—until I saw the Mormon women. Then I was touched. My heart was wiser than my head. It warmed toward these poor, ungainly and pathetically “homely” creatures, and as I turned to hide the generous moisture in my eyes, I said, “No–the man that marries one of them has done an act of Christian charity which entitles him to the kindly applause of mankind, not their harsh censure–and the man that marries sixty of them has done a deed of open-handed generosity so sublime that the nations should stand uncovered in his presence and worship in silence.”

    –Mark Twain.

    The label on the bottle depicts some homely mormon wives. It is said that one would need one full bottle of the vodka each day if one were married to five homely mormon women. So, a man with one homely wife could make the bottle last five days. A man with a real mean, snotty, bitchy wife could make the bottle last about five hours. Thus the depiction of the wives on the label is not without context or guidance. A guy walking the floor of the liquor store in Idaho, with a large canteen on the mule outside the door, can thus choose his medicine, his antidote if not cure for other bad decisions in life. If he has already chosen one form of single sex marriage to one women or single sex marriage to five, he can now choose the antidote.
    This goes right to the heart of religion and the right to preach religion protected under the religion prong of the First Amendment. Further, it goes to the right to petition one’s government for the redress of grievances. The bottle is the medium and the medium is the message. A drunk mormon is petitioning his government by having the bottle on display in the state liquor store for the state senators, state representatives and voters to see.

    So, Jonathan, there you have it. Your Brief to the Supreme Court of Idaho or to the United States District Court can include the foregoing. I would use the Twain description. But, if you are timid then perhaps never the Twain shall meet the Idaho courts, state or federal.

    BarkinDog (a free speech lawyer in a prior incarnation)

  8. Since Mormons supposedly don’t drink alcohol, I wonder why they allow the sales of any alcoholic beverages? Aren’t they all offensive? Ok, so it isn’t the vodka, it’s the label as Barkindog says. The five wives could be one at a time for one man, or all at the same time for five different men, or a remembrance of the Mormon past of one man with five wives. I have even attended events of five (or more) wives. These events are known as baby showers, quilting bees, paint-alongs.

    This is the state acting on behalf of a religion against the free speech of a corporation. The corporation is people, you know, and is entitled to all the protections of the first amendment.

  9. (third attempt at posting)

    Washington’s voters approved a measure to get the state out of the liquor monopoly business. The state was forced to sell off all the liquor stores and I bought one of them. I bought the Tumwater store

    I will talk to my distributors today and see if they can wholesale this to me. If I can get it I will buy some cases and display them prominently with the words “Banned in Idaho”.


    I would like to thank the Idaho Gov’t for advertising this product otherwise I might have not heard of it so readily.

  10. Professor Turley,

    I went to Boise State. Idaho state government is dominated by the Mormon establishment. I’m sure the small distillery in Utah is honored you took their case and greatly appreciates your assistance.

    When I was there the belief was that if a Mormon wife had six children she got her own planet.

  11. Ridiculous and silly from a purely common sense point of view.
    From a legal point of view it opens up a door that would make every single product/service illegal.

    It is as insane as places like Ireland having blasphemy laws. You can have such laws in places where there is no religious freedom and the protection is granted to single or hand-picked religions.

    However when you have freedom of religion anything and everything can be labeled blasphemy including blasphemy laws.

    If a religion claims that this label offends them then thanks to religious freedom laws to ban the label because the women’s faces are bare. Furthermore you can claim your religion frowns on depictions of animals or people on alcoholic beverages or even that it frowns on not having depictions of animals or people.

    No matter what is on the label it could be denounced as insulting to someone.

  12. I recall reading somewhere that some Muslim countries had banned Sesame Street because of Miss Piggy as well as cartoons with Porky Pig. Also, I seem to recall hearing about Donald Duck being banned somewhere because he did not wear pants.

  13. Darren Smith 1, June 6, 2012 at 11:29 am

    Washington’s voters approved a measure to get the state out of the liquor monopoly business. The state was forced to sell off all the liquor stores and I bought one of them. I bought the Tumwater store

    I will talk to my distributors today and see if they can wholesale this to me. If I can get it I will buy some cases and display them prominently with the words “Banned in Idaho”.

    I would like to thank the Idaho Gov’t for advertising this product otherwise I might have not heard of it so readily.
    That “Banned in Idaho” is sure to increase sales. Good tactic!

  14. Although some here might superficially believe that I am for all things controlled by government, those States in the liquor monopoly business have always puzzled me. There is no need for a State liquor monopoly and much reason not to have one. This decision was obviously made to curry political favor with the LDS. The basis of Prohibition came from religion, as in the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union. When it ended many States sought to gain financial benefit from legalization, by using “moral” (religious) grounds to justify the monopoly. I would expect a prompt victory in this particular case since there are no legal grounds for it. If the State of Idaho was out of the liquor business, individual store owners could choose whether or not they wanted to stock this Vodka.

    Despite protestations to the contrary by those who would present themselves as connoisseurs of liquor, Vodka by definition is 100% grain neutral spirits and thus is tasteless. While really inexpensive vodkas may at times be harsher to drink, they all taste the same.

  15. Epic smack down of stoopid government Mr. Turley. Best of luck, I’ll be watching this one, even if it’s so I can see the comedy unfold as the state tries to defend this.

  16. Mike,

    As a aficionado of good vodka, I would like to take partial exception with your comment. While the flavor is neutral, the drinking experience varies vastly by distiller and ingredients. For example, the paragon that is potato vodka is a sublime pleasure compared to the horror that is rice vodka. A really good chilled vodka is a pleasure – almost like drinking nothing at all but the essence of cold. A really bad one is the worst rotgut rocket fuel imaginable. The pleasure from good vodka has nothing to do with the taste, but with the sensation created by drinking itself.

  17. Wow! I live in CDA and never would have heard of this vodka if it weren’t for all of the recent publication. ID blew it! I want to send to all of my family all over the world now! Instead, I am waiting for the t-shirts ordered from the distiller. Proudly will display as I work out at PEAK Fitness. I come from a long line of attorneys and am pleased to see you take this on! Best of luck and Ogden’s Own, hang in there! Lot’s of support in NORTHERN ID!

  18. RandyJet said, “I have no idea why the Utah folks think it must be five current wives.”

    I thought they could be 5 married women in a carpool, 5 married women in a book club, 5 married women who meet for coffee, or any other collection of 5 wives of 5 husbands.

  19. Otteray Scribe said, “I seem to recall hearing about Donald Duck being banned somewhere because he did not wear pants.”

    I watched a Mickey Mouse Club episode with a grandson recently. You’re right that Donald only wears a sailor blouse; however when he appeared topless to take a bath, he was wearing swimming trunks.

  20. LOL, you go Professor! If the case is won, as it certainly should be, I hope Ogdon’s Own runs off a special batch celebrating the First Amendment. I want to be on that order list. :-)

  21. Rafflaw, maybe a tasteful crop of this image by Shepard Fairey for the ACLU:

    This image may already be in the public domain and is apropos:


  22. Professor Turley,

    Wasn’t being factitious. I have no doubt they really do appreciate your help.

  23. Back in the early 1990s, a local New Orleans beer, Dixie Voodoo Lager, was banned in Texas because of its name and label conjured up images of black magic. Texas backed down before it made it to the courts. Good luck.

  24. Gene,
    My point exactly the pleasure is in the drinking with vodka. However, with tequila for instance the difference between Patron and Cuevo is the taste.
    Various gins also differ in taste as do scotches, bourbons etc. When I drink, which isn’t often I drink tequila and have for forty years. I do like the taste but the real resson is it was the only liquor back in the day that never made me nauseous when I over-indulged. As I’ve aged I find I only feel like drinking socially.

  25. Mike,

    I’m in total agreement on the tequila and gin . . . or any liquor with flavor. I too drink primarily socially other than the occasional ale or beer at home, but I’ve often wondered what the bar profile so to speak of what the regulars here would drink should we all meet at one big party. I know mespo would be having scotch and I think Bob would too. Gyges is a well known quality beer man. MetroCowboy and me would be hitting the vodka although I may stray into a good G&T or a Mojito. A good ale in always an option for me but I don’t mix beer and anything else. Elaine and Blouise like wine, but I also recall one (or perhaps both) mentioning they like rum as well. The Prof mentions wine quite a bit. OS likes bourbon and I think Bron has said something about it too. I think I recall LK saying she like tequila too but I might be mistaken. I don’t think Nal or Mike A. has ever expressed a preference or any of the other regulars I can recall.

    One thing is for sure.

    It would be one helluva party with some really interesting conversation.

    Out of pure curiosity, regulars, what is your drink of choice?

  26. Gene,
    That would be a fun scene. I’d be sipping Tequila Patron’ Gold straight in a small snifter. If I wanted staying power though it would be Riesling. On a cold winter night it would be Remy VSOP.

  27. Gene, I like bourbon or a good Tennessee product like Jack Daniels #7. I am also fond of rum. As for mixed drinks, I think my favorite is a margarita.

    This may be hard to believe, I never really cared for Scotch unless it is a truly high end single malt such as The Macallan. That stuff runs about $160 for a bottle. In 2010, a bottle of The Macallan 64-year-old single malt whisky in a one-of-a-kind “Lalique: Cire Perdue” crystal decanter was sold for $460,000. I have never been able to talk anyone into buying me a gift bottle. Cheapskates. Cheaper blended Scotch tastes too much like iodine.

  28. I’m a wuss in the drinks department. I stick to imported beers no one has ever heard of. I like Rodenbach (Belgium), Victoria Bitter (Australia), Vetins, Beck, and Radeberger (Germany). I’m a beer snob, so sue me =) I’ll drink Sam Adams Blueberry Wheat when no one is looking. Awesome beer, in small quantities.

  29. Having bypassed for the instant the other many comments,
    let me say that I hope I am the first to invite Five Wives’s to apply for the right to be sold in the home of Absolut Vodka. Such uses of arbitrary power are also contestable here.

    And the Absolut people would be idiots not to welcome the association with a hot attention-getter like this occasion and competitor.

    On the wondrouus occasion that Five Wives should take up my invitation (not an official one), and then be denied on similar grounds here, I hope we will be honored to see the Professor here, representing his illustrious client on a PR visit.

    I wonder who Assange has approached there with queries as to possible representation. Would the professor say whether he would welcome such a query in principle?

  30. Commercial Speech tempered with the states ability to regulate alcohol sales within its borders….. It’ll be a rational basis test……. I predict a loser at the district court level…. A win in the 9th circuit and the Sct refusing to take it up……

  31. BettyKath,


    “Since Mormons supposedly don’t drink alcohol, I wonder why they allow the sales of any alcoholic beverages? Aren’t they all offensive?”

    The mormons are a cowardly folk. They will not generally have the courage to voice disapproval until the other part
    lies already felled to the ground. Whether this felling is due to alcohol’s effects or the others misfortune or deeds, it matter not—-that he is felled and helpless is the point.

    Spoken by one who knows from personal experience.

  32. The other answer to alcohol’s useage was supplied by Barkin’Dog and Mark Twain:

    But why the man whose wife I enjoyed had chosen to sleep through his miseries with this beautiful wife waiting impatiently, is a mystery to me. It must have been the other four, or perhaps his in-laws that had gotten him into a distraught state.

    Beautifully done, Barkin’.

  33. GeneH,
    “A really good chilled vodka is a pleasure – almost like drinking nothing at all but the essence of cold. A really bad one is the worst rotgut rocket fuel imaginable. ”

    True, and the state-coontrolled monopoly here in Sweden sells both kinds.

    Over the years they have turned Sweden, due to subtle
    marketing messages and and materials promoting wine or even non-alcoholic alterernative wines, away from being once a week bingers to moderate drinkers.

    This is not meant as a defense of your version of state-controlled sales. But my most recent purchase in NC in their store gave no indication of similar ambitions. Here there is a well-educated advisor in every store to assist as to assortment, types of wines, food to eat with them, etc. In short, they market the enjoyment, not the intoxicating effects. With never a commercial sales promotion in sight.

    And in no way is this an automatic result of a socialist system, but it could be argued that it is, given the conservatives love for profit above all else.

  34. @ gokart mozart…

    Mr. Murray was referring to US citizens being assassinated… murdered.. by their government without charges, trial or conviction. It’s that pesky US Constitution. You might have heard of it but you certainly don’t seem to understand it.

  35. Why the attacks on the Mormon faith? Many commentors seem to be insinuating that Mormons banned Five Wives or had something to do with the ban.That is ridiculous. Mormons had no idea Five Wives Vodka existed before the ban. Mormons were once a brutally persecuted minority. They know far too well the pain of losing their First Ammendment rights, and would not inflict such injustice on anyone else. Yet in these comments we find empathy for Five Wives comparitively small plight and derision of Mormons. I guess bigotry and hate know no logic.

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