The Nebraska Supreme Court on Friday morning issued its ruling on the fate of four beer stores in Whiteclay, Nebraska, a town of twelve citizens. The decision vacated a District Court judge’s earlier decision and ruled in favor of citizens who had protested the stores. The stores, which closed in May, will remain shuttered.
Activists have been advocating for the stores’ closure for decades, in part because of their proximity to the dry Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, which sits just a short walk across the South Dakota border, and where alcohol consumption has been prohibited since the 1970s. Still, an estimated one in four children is born on the reservation with fetal alcohol syndrome and up to two-thirds of adults struggle with alcoholism. In the past, these four stores have sold as many as 3.5 million cans of beer per year.
Last spring, the Nebraska Liquor Control Commission voted to prevent the four stores from renewing their licenses based on an obscure rule—that, in order to host a liquor store, a town must have adequate law enforcement. After a hearing, the Commission voted unanimously to close the stores based on testimony from the county sheriff and local residents. A subsequent series of appeals sent the case all the way to the Nebraska Supreme Court.
“Today’s Nebraska Supreme Court decision means that the shame of Whiteclay is over. It also means huge rocks have been removed from the road to recovery for many of the Oglala Lakota Sioux Nation and the Pine Ridge Reservation,” said David Domina, attorney for the Whiteclay residents who advocated for the stores’ closure, in a press release.
The Supreme Court’s decision was based on questions of jurisdiction and legal process. It ruled that the legal team advocating on behalf of the beer stores had failed to include all “parties of record” when it sought a decision from the District Court. This failure meant the District Court didn’t have jurisdiction over the matter, and “as a result, we lack jurisdiction over this appeal. We vacate the judgment of the district court and dismiss this appeal,” wrote the justices.
The decision vacated the District Court’s April decision (in which it ruled the stores could stay open) and remanded it back to the District Court. Domina told the Omaha World-Herald on Friday that the beer stores have the option to re-apply for liquor licenses, though they are unlikely to be granted.