D.C. Becomes 17th Jurisdiction to Legalize Sunday Liquor Sales Since 2002

This week the District of Columbia Council gave initial approval to Sunday liquor sales, a convenience that Americans in most jurisdictions take for granted. When I lived in Fairfax, Virginia, the District was the place with relatively liberal alcohol regulations (and lower prices), so it's a bit of a surprise to see it playing catch-up with Virginia, which has allowed Sunday liquor sales since last July (although you still have to buy distilled spirits from state-run stores, as opposed to the private retailers in D.C., because Gov. Bob McDonnell's privatization plans have not gone anywhere so far). Of the six states where I have lived, that makes three (Pennsylvania, New York, and Virginia) where selling liquor on Sunday used to be illegal but is now allowed. It has always been legal in California (which has the added convenience of distilled spirits in grocery stores), and it remains illegal in South Carolina. Judging from the pattern so far, Texas will not legalize Sunday sales until I leave.

Despite their religious roots, laws prohibiting businesses from operating on Sunday have been upheld by the Supreme Court. In the 1961 case McGowan v. Maryland, the Court rejected an Establishment Clause challenge to a state law prohibiting the sale of most merchandise on Sunday. While such laws may originally have been aimed at honoring the Christian Sabbath and encouraging church attendance, the Court said, they also can be justified on secular grounds, such as the desire to prevent people from working too much. Notably, liquor store owners often oppose laws allowing Sunday sales, complaining that competition will compel them to open their businesses when they would rather keep them closed.

Although constitutional challenges to Sunday closing laws have not been successful, such restrictions have steadily dwindled over the years in response to changing social and economic circumstances. Liquor sales are a lagging indicator of this trend. According to the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States, a dozen states still prohibit liquor sales on Sunday: Alabama, Indiana, Minnesota, Mississippi, Montana, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, and West Virginia.* Of the remaining 38, 16 allow local governments to ban Sunday sales, and four restrict Sunday sales (by state-run stores) to certain areas. In the last decade, 16 states (now plus D.C.) have lifted their bans.

[*Corrected: I mistakenly included New Mexico, a local-option state, and left out West Virginia, where Sunday sales are banned statewide.]  

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  • Tulpa Doom||

    the Court said, they also can be justified on secular grounds, such as the desire to prevent people from working too much.

    What BS. That could be accomplished by requiring that employees have a day off during every calendar week, which many jurisdictions also do.

  • ||

    Just goes to show how weak Rational Basis is.

  • fried wylie||

    How, in any way shape or form, is this a legitimate function of government?

  • Way Of The Crane||

    When I lived in Fairfax, Virginia, the District was the place with relatively liberal alcohol regulations (and lower prices),

    I just moved to Fairfax (from Tampa, FL) a couple of months ago. Thanks to the VA Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control, I'm paying $22 for a bottle of rum that sold for $12-$14 in Florida. For some reason it hadn't occurred to me to make a run for the border and check out prices in the District and Maryland. Thanks

  • Raston Bot||

    Just don't get pulled over while carrying liquor over state lines.

  • Juice||

    You're gonna get jacked in MD too.

  • Tonio||

    What Raston said. VA officials used to stake out MD liquor stores and follow vehicles with VA tags and bust them once they were back in jurisdiction.

    And avoid those store right over the border both for the reason above, and that the prices are not competitive.

  • Hell's Librarian||

    $12-$14 in Florida. For some reason it hadn't occurred to me to make a run for the border and check out prices in the District and Maryland. Thanks

    Don't come to Baltimore County, MD, because you can't buy it here on Sunday either.

  • fried wylie||

    Don't come to Baltimore County, MD

    'nough said.

  • EJ||

    There have been local sales in New Mexico for well over a decade on Sundays. I don't think sales start until after 12:30pm in most counties.

  • T||

    Well, if it's gonna take you leaving to get TX to allow Sunday sales, as much as I'll miss having you here, get gone.

  • Auric Demonocles||

    Too drunk to post alt-text?

  • fried wylie||

    He's not as alt-text as you drunk he is.

  • Tonio||

    Sullum, I'm pretty sure VA has allowed Sunday ABC sales for longer than you state; seems like it's been several years now. Also, should be noted that ABC stores are only open on Sundays in some areas: NoVa (where they were losing money to DC and MD stores for years), Richmond and (I think) Norfolk; basically, the major metro areas. And no private liquor stores, of course.

  • ||

    From the linked article about Sunday liquor sales in Texas:

    A leader of the Texas Package Stores Association told the Senate Business and Commerce Committee on Tuesday there’s been no great demand from customers that liquor stores open on Sundays. Plus, opening on Sunday would likely spread the same sales over seven days instead of six, said association president Greg Wonsmos, who’s also president of Centennial Fine Wine and Spirits.

    That is so fucking obnoxious. There is absolutely zero consideration of, you know, economic freedom. Apparently this TPSA prez gets to decide both: 1) what customers want; and 2) whether businesses can cater to their customers. Asshole.

  • T||

    The insane traffic in a liqour store on Saturday night might just be a data point against his argument.

  • Douglasville Dude||

    Most of the states that prohibit liquor sales on Sundays do permit beer/wine. What is their justification for tougher laws for distilled spirits?

  • fried wylie||

    Distilled spirits compete more directly with The Holy Spirit, and are accordingly subject to more restrictive regulation.

  • waaminn||

    Oh wow, its about time! Thats amazing!
    www.IP-Hidden.tk

  • Ornithorhynchus||

    Oklahoma allows Sunday sales by county option, at least for bars and restaurants. I voted to allow the sales in my county last month (and most of the county voted for it also). I'm not sure if the law applies to liquor stores, though. I haven't checked to see if any of them are open on Sundays now.

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