As covered last week, a recent attempt to yank the liquor license from the Trump Hotel in Washington, D.C. has failed (for now). Although Trump’s opponents will surely be disappointed, R Street’s Jarrett Dieterle and Jonathan Haggerty wrote a piece for the Washington Post discussing why using “good moral character” laws to strip liquor licenses is a bad idea:
What do the president of the United States and an ex-convict from Michigan have in common? They’ve both been involved in legal disputes with the government over their fitness to hold a license.
President Trump — or rather, his hotel, the Trump International Hotel in Washington — holds a license that allows it to legally sell liquor. The Michigan man, Mike Grennan, sought to obtain a license to become a homebuilding contractor. Both situations demonstrate the potentially pernicious effects of so-called “good moral character” clauses in state and local licensing laws.
In June, a group of religious leaders and former judges filed a complaint with D.C.’s Alcoholic Beverage Control Board arguing that Trump — and thus, the Trump Hotel — was unfit to hold a liquor license. Their claim is based on the “good moral character” provision in the District’s licensing law, which requires owners of drinking establishments to be of sound moral character to serve alcoholic beverages…
While Trump’s detractors may be disappointed by the decision, there is good reason to celebrate it. Good-moral-character clauses are notoriously vague, which makes them ripe for abuse by local government officials. The D.C. law does not define “good character,” according to Alcoholic Beverage Control Board spokesman Max Bluestein, and some states, including Michigan, do so using ambiguous terms, such as, “[T]he propensity on the part of the person to serve the public in the licensed area in a fair, honest, and open manner.”
Such open-ended language allows officials to use good-moral-character clauses in improper ways, such as targeting political enemies or, even worse, blocking well-meaning citizens from obtaining employment. This is because licensing boards around the country can, and often do, interpret good-moral-character clauses to mean that anyone with a prior criminal conviction is automatically disqualified from holding a license — regardless of the prior offense’s relation to the nature of the job the applicant is seeking…
Read the whole article here.