DC brewery sues federal government over shutdown
© Getty Images

A Washington, D.C., brewery is suing the acting U.S. attorney general over its inability to sell labeled beer during the partial government shutdown. 

Atlas Brew Works filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday. In the suit, which was first reported by DCist, the D.C. brewer argues that the shutdown has affected its ability to sell labeled beer and that this represents a violation of the First Amendment. 

ADVERTISEMENT

The agency that approves new labels for Atlas Brew Works has been closed because of the shutdown. 

The brewer says in the lawsuit that the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau approved labels for cans of a beer called The Precious One. But labels for kegs of the beverage did not receive an approval before the shutdown and shipping them outside of the D.C. area would violate federal law. 

The lawsuit says 40 barrels of The Precious One, which will expire in 120 days, have been sitting in a tank since Jan. 3. 

“We see our labels as a form of speech, that’s how we speak to our consumers,” Justin Cox, founder and CEO of Atlas, told DCist. “We’re unable to exercise that right without approval from the federal government.”

A number of brewers nationwide are feeling the impact of the shutdown on their product, but Atlas is the first to sue over it.

The lawsuit comes as the partial government shutdown, which began on Dec. 22, persists into its fourth week. It is the longest shutdown in American history.  

Atlas is seeking an order that would bar acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker from enforcing federal law if Atlas were to package and sell labeled kegs without the necessary approval. 

"Atlas can't function without labeling its products," Alan Gura, the attorney who filed the suit on Atlas's behalf, said in an email to The Hill. "Nobody would buy an unmarked liquid."

"Courts have repeatedly upheld brewers' First Amendment rights in their labels. And if the First Amendment means anything, it means Americans can't be criminally prosecuted for speaking without a license where the license, as a matter of law, doesn’t exist.”

Cox said to DCist that "the court should not allow Atlas to be prosecuted for speaking without an unavailable license." He added that the shutdown could "shut down the brewery" by negatively impacting its production schedule. 

The shutdown is impacting thousands of federal workers around the nation, and has led to lawsuits from labor unions. A federal judge on Tuesday refused to issue an order that would have forced the federal government to temporarily pay federal workers during the government shutdown.

-Updated 6:02 p.m.