Washington, D.C., brewery Atlas Brew Works has filed a First Amendment lawsuit and motion for preliminary injunction alleging that the federal government’s partial shutdown has violated its right to speak because the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau has stopped issuing label approvals, causing beer production to halt. Atlas Brew Works v. Whitaker, No. 19-0079 (D.D.C., filed January 15, 2019). The complaint asserts that Atlas “sits on 40 barrels of seasonal, perishable beer—an apricot-infused India pale ale known as The Precious One—that it cannot lawfully label for interstate sale in kegs, as scheduled, for lack of a [Certificate of Label Approval (COLA)].” The brewery alleges that its speech—through labels—is essential to its business because it “cannot sell, and no one will purchase, random unidentified liquids.”

Atlas argues that its First Amendment rights have been violated because “it cannot be denied the right to speak for lack of meeting an impossible condition. The right to free speech is not a favor that the government affords Americans when political circumstances allow. Moreover, the COLA requirement, a content-based prior restraint on speech, is currently unconstitutional because the licensing authority withholds permission indefinitely.” Atlas seeks an injunction stopping the federal government from enforcing the law that prohibits breweries from selling beer without prior label approvals.

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