The long-running argument over Internet wine shipments in the US has arrived at the White House, according to press reports. The Washington Post said today that the Bush administration has until the end of today to decide whether to take a stand in a Supreme Court case pitting former Whitewater prosecutor Kenneth Starr and President Bush's brother-in-law against a coalition of evangelical Christians.

People involved in the case told the newspaper that the matter was still being debated within the administration late on Tuesday. A White House spokeswoman yesterday referred questions to the Justice Department, where a spokesman did not respond.

The Washington Post reports that the White House finds itself caught between two parts of Bush's political base: business interests who favour freer commerce and religious conservatives concerned about minors buying wine.

Wine producers, represented by Starr and supported by the Wine Institute, with Robert P. Koch - President Bush's sister's husband - as its president, are trying to overturn state laws prohibiting inter-state Internet wine shipments.

On the other side are the states of New York and Michigan, the paper said, who are supported by attorneys general from 35 states. (About half the states have bans on direct wine sales.) The states are joined by liquor distributors and a coalition of religious and community groups including the National Association of Evangelicals, the Eagle Forum, Concerned Women for America and American Values. These groups have joined a friend-of-the-court brief to be filed today by the Michigan Association of Secondary School Principals.

Bush's administration is not a party to the case itself.