Only 50 years ago, there were places in this country where you could not buy non-essential items on Sundays, because it was a crime for shopkeepers to sell them to you.
These laws, called “Sabbath laws” or “blue laws,” existed in the vast majority of states, came in many varieties of Sunday prohibitions, and the traditionally-liberal states in the northeast, such as New York and Massachusetts, were among the last to get rid of theirs in the late 70s. By 1976, the highest court in New York had little trouble concluding that “[t]here is little doubt that these laws are clearly religious in origin…” and striking down the laws in that (and subsequent) challenges. People v. Abrahams, 40 N.Y.2d 277, 281 (N.Y. 1976). The Constitution forbids state establishment of religion, and it is obvious that these laws contravene that “commandment.”
But, laws are struck down one at a time, and for whatever reason, several of New York’s remain unchallenged. One of the remaining ones is this: on New Year’s Day, New York allows its bars to stay open all night long, so long as they are in good standing and submit an application with a small fee. But, if New Year’s Day lands on a Sunday, the law prohibits licenses from being issued by its State Liquor Authority.
Noticing that January 1st, 2023 lands on a Sunday, Brooklyn event venue and licensed bar Eris has filed suit last night, with me as counsel, challenging this law. It may seem trivial, but even small violations of constitutional rights should be remedied, and in fact, this law costs bars and restaurants tens of millions of dollars (not to mention millions of dollars in lost tax revenue) each New Year’s Day — so it is not all that trivial and frankly I am shocked that the industry has not challenged this law yet.
The case is Eris Evolution, LLC v. Vincent Bradley (the current Chairman of the New York State Liquor Authority) and was assigned case number 1:22-CV-4616 in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York. I am hopeful that New York will agree to end this practice rather than fight to keep the Lord’s Day enshrined in state law.