U.S. District Judge Thomas P. Jackson left intact yesterday a new D.C. law banning surveillance of city liquor stores by out-of-state revenue agents trying to catch tax-evading consumers.
Jackson rejected arguments by lawyers for the state of Maryland for a temporary restraining order to block the statute, saying they had failed to prove the law is unconstitutional.
Jackson ordered lawyers for both sides to submit more detailed written arguments by Dec. 28, however, and indicated that he will reconsider the issue soon afterward.
The court action is the latest round in a perennial feud between the District and Virginia and Maryland, which contend they lose major tax and sales revenues when their residents buy liquor in the District. The legal limit is one quart in Maryland and one gallon in Virginia.
Pennsylvania also has sent agents into the District, according to court papers.
Jackson agreed with Maryland that the state would suffer "immediate and irreparable injury" if the restraining order was denied.
"Both the equities and the public interest lie with Maryland," he said.
But he added that the state had failed to convince him that it was likely to win in a trial on the constitutional merits of the issue -- one of the legal requirements for granting a temporary restraining order.
In a written order denying Maryland's request, the judge chided the District for passing the new law.
Cooperation, he said, "ought to attend the relations of sister jurisdictions, at least to the point of mutual assistance to, rather than obstruction of one another's enforcement of their duly enacted revenue laws.
"The District's legislation actually facilitates the violation of those of Maryland, while serving no substantial interest of its own, other than the enhancement of its own tax revenues at Maryland's expense and the economic interest of its liquor merchants in an increased market of would-be breakers of Maryland law."
The District was joined yesterday in defending the statute by a lawyer for the Mid-Atlantic Liquor Consortium, a group of about 30 D.C. liquor outlets.
The D.C. City Council adopted the law Dec. 4 at Mayor Marion Barry's request. The emergency legislation bans surveillance for 90 days.
Previously, out-of-state revenue agents who obtained surveillance permits from D.C. police were allowed to monitor cars with non-District license tags. Customers could be stopped if they carried illegal quantities of liquor across state lines.
Lawyers for the District argued that the presence of armed, out-of-state agents posed a threat to public safety, caused disturbances at city liquor stores and prompted the decline of D.C. liquor sales.