Seeing Red Over Blue Laws

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Virginia's recent accidental re-imposition of blue laws–and the frenzy it's inciting–is a reminder of how many major social advances become taken for granted once they happen.

It's amazing to recall that only 25 or 30 years ago, most states had blue laws (some still do but they are rarely enforced), religious-based restrictions on buying and selling on the Sabbath. It's hard to square with today's 24/7 business cycle, but I can remember whole sections of stores being cordoned off on Sundays.

Virginia's recent snafu is a reminder, too, that far more potent restrictions still exist on the buying and selling of booze, and not just on Sundays. Isn't it about time we moved past those olde-tyme prohibitions, too?

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  1. It’s interesting to me that the older law specifically included Jews and excluded Muslims or basically anybody whose “day of rest” isn’t on Saturday or Sunday.

    They probably didn’t know. How many Moslems do you think there were in Virginia when this law was enacted? And, for that matter, how many of them were even allowed to vote?

  2. Is it really a blue law? It sounds to me more like a “liberal” law claiming that lots of time off is a basic human right, to go with all the other mandatory leave laws that liberals love.

  3. Out here in liberal Californicate we have better laws than say, Arizona. Those throwbacks won’t let you buy beer before noon on Sunday and make the bars close at 1:00 am.

    We, on the other hand can buy beer any time we want, so long as it isn’t between 2:00 am and 6:00 am and our bars can stay open until 2:00 am.

    Progressive.

    Except Arizona will let you bring your underage kids into the bar where Ca won’t. So they got us on that one.

    But the differences are mostly cosmetic and essentially are a distinction without a difference.

    I’d like to repeal all those laws not just the “religious” induced so-called blue laws.

    Hours, terms, conditions, prices, and services should be between the liquor purveyor and his/her customers.

    Hey, that sounds almost libertarian…..

  4. Aw, come on.

    Let’s think of this without discriminating against the government vs. business– they’re both a part of the “marketplace.”

    So the judge places suspends the revision to the law which– by accident– provides unintended benefits to some, and unintended costs to another. And then some people try to take advantage of it.

    That sounds like the marketplace to me. It’s no different than if a hurricane destroyed houses, reshaped the coastline, and put some people’s property underwater, changing the valuation
    of the real estate market. Unintended consequences: like building your home in a place with greater risk, and then expecting people to bail you out after you thought your insurance (read: lobbying) would reimburse you for your ignorance.

    Except in this case, the regulatory waters were stirred without regard for the historical and cultural perspectives that had accreted to the law over time. Says something about respecting your (dead) elders, doesn’t it?

    Tough. That’s life. I suspect some people are more upset that religion gets some unintended advantages in all of this, than that they get the option of extra benefits.

    I mean, after all, RELIGION. That’s so superstitious and retrograde. Ironically Jerry Falwell, the media punching bag for right-wing stupidity, declared that most religious leaders were a practical bunch that didn’t expect anyone to take this law seriously.

    Who wants to look like a greedy gut, anyway? With us religious folks supposed to be impossibly upstanding and hypocritical at the same time?

    The laws of unintended consequences apply to everyone, regardless of whether or not you’re a commy or a blue-blood. Enough people make enough bad choices and viola! The market changes and corrects, even if your ideology of choice is libertarian.

    As one of those aforementioned religious stereotypes, I’m laughing my a** off right now.

  5. But what would you really rather have: more ability to buy booze whenever you choose (sheesh just buy some ahead of time) or more time off?

  6. One of the many reasons I’m an atheist is this assumption by “believers” that god needs governments’ help to make human-kind straighten up and fly right.
    If I were that puny of a god, I’d commit suicide, or, at the very least, take steroids.

  7. Joe Middelkoop — Say again? Government regulations are marketplace actions? Or are you treating legislation as a natural phenomenon like a hurricane? I’m really not sure what your point is.

  8. garym,
    Ignore long posts.

  9. That sounds like the marketplace to me. It’s no different than if a hurricane destroyed houses, reshaped the coastline, and put some people’s property underwater, changing the valuation of the real estate market.

    It’s exactly the same — if you overlook the fact that it’s completely different. A hurricane is something over which nobody has any control. The passage of laws is entirely in human hands.

    You might as well claim that there’s no difference between dying from a heart attack and dying from a bullet in the head.

  10. Don’t forget the nice morality tale of unintended consequences–the snafu is over the fact that the restrictions they killed were actually liberalizations of an older law, which they didn’t repeal.

    It’s interesting to me that the older law specifically included Jews and excluded Muslims or basically anybody whose “day of rest” isn’t on Saturday or Sunday.

  11. “My reluctance is, this is really treading on the legislative prerogative,” Markow said. “Just because someone says we really didn’t mean to do that. . . . We have a process. The legislative process is sacred.”

    He said, as he treaded on the legislative process.

    Having a weekend day off or triple pay sounds good to me. Which means I better go swallow my orthodoxy pills…

  12. Interesting. On a Saturday where I just came home from work due to a managerial error that couldn’t wait to Monday to get fixed. As for triple pay, yeah right, this pee-on is on salary!

  13. You can’t seriously argue that we are less regulated now than we used to be. Blue laws were the medieval equivalent of our 40 hour work week and overtime-pay regulations, enacted by the Church to protect the peasants.

  14. yeah, I suppose my memories of Nevada are kind of dated.

    I just remember the sagebrush rebellion thing. (not so much remember as told about it). There was also the legal prostitution, the lack of state taxes that I paid, the fact that clubs could be open at any hour, the legal gambling. Medical Marijuana only failed by a little, and so did the helmet law for motorcyles. (I usually wear a helmet, but I like it to be my choice).

    I also lived in and loved Reno, and there were definately some libertarian enclaves there.

    The lack of being able to achieve a libertarian haven was blamed on the CA immigrants (of which I was one). But now that I think about it LV is a liberal city, and they have the hugest voting bloc.

    Still it wouldn’t hurt if liberals from NV were to move to Massachusets or somewhere, and their libertarians would move to NV. The liberals could see how lousy their shit was (apparently the CCCP wasn’t egsample enough), and we could enjoy prosperity and freedom.

  15. Who outside of the deep south spells it “moslems?” Crazy Kristchuns.

  16. Of course Nevada never would have become particularly prosperous in the first place if most gambling wasn’t illegal everywhere else.

    Besides even the assumption that Nevada state spending or taxation is low per capita is questionable. A quick search will show that it is not on the low end of state spending per capita. So sure if you’d rather pay sales tax and gas tax and insurance tax than income tax – even though you’ll still be paying a lot in taxes – then move to Nevada. Otherwise just stay where you are.

  17. Maybe legislators can do better by never intending to do anything so no one takes advantage of anything.

    You see, this is just the sort of wild-eyed utopianism that keeps the Libertarian Party on the political fringe. 🙂

    Joe M. has a weird view of the market. There may very well be a “market for legislation”, but that is a struggle among political actors over how much and which types of coercion will replace voluntary agreement in social and economic interactions, and when the state should step in with coercive power to thwart the use of coercion and threat that violate persons’ rights.

    That “market for legislation” itself is defined by law. Straight bribery to get what you want is supposed to be illegal, and the indirect bribery is hemmed in by regulation, however ineffectual and unconstitutional.

    “Blue laws” in my experience growing up in the Northeast, covered much more than just liquor sales. In many cases, they were plainly protective legislation for small business versus national chains. When what was, at the time (late 60’s) and only briefly, the largest retail mall in the USA opened on the state highway at Smithtown, NY, shoe stores and clothing shops therin were regularly issued nuisance tickets for Sunday opening, at the behest of the small town Main St. outfits that were their competition. The law being old, the tickets had small fines, so the mall stores just paid them and kept opening, until the laws were either struck down in court or changed in Albany. The Main Streeters were faced with opening 7 days just as the new competition had lured away a good deal of the trade they normally depended upon. Anyone familiar with the furor over a new Wal*Mart being planned on the outskirts of their small town will immediately see the parallels.

    If one believes that labor relations laws are a proper ground for government meddling, than a fair reading of the “free exercise” clause of the first amendment and of the similar clauses in the state constitutions would lead one to approve of laws granting employees the power to demand that their employees respect their desire to keep each their own Sabbath. That this would amount to a partial taking by the state without compensation of the property of the business owner, in service of “an establishment of religion” – remember, there are religions that don’t keep any Sabbath, besides the many unchurched – wouldn’t bother a statist of religious stripe any more than it would annoy someone who championed business regulation from other motivations.

    Don’t forget that there are unintended consequences to a “Sabbath rights” law. Employers may check the parking lot to see if the person applying for a job has a Jesus fish on her car before deciding to hire her. Guys whose name ends in “stein” may find that they rarely get to spend a lazy Sunday watching the NFL, while their coworkers who wear crosses around their necks never miss a game. Actually, the mind boggles at the innumerable retail operations owned by Jewish families, very few of which close at sundown Friday to sundown on Saturday, but I digress.

    I do confess that it would have been charming if the Virginia courts had told the legislature. “We could overturn your law if it were unconstitutional, but as it is just plain dumb, you are stuck with it until you can amend or repeal it.” Are any in the Old Dominion seriously considering repealing the entire law, swiss cheese exemptions and all?

    Kevin
    (posting on a Sunday AND a
    national holiday. Horrors!)

    A Glorious 4th to all!

  18. “If you want to complain that people take advantage of the legislative process, then complain every time someone takes advantage of handicap laws that place onerous burdens upon businesses to build special ramps even if no one uses them. Or complain about corporate subsidies written into the tax code which provide unfair advantage to big business over small business. Perhaps the intentions were good, but so what? Someone, somewhere has taken advantage of it.”

    Er, yes. Reason is so hypocritical. If only it complained about the ADA or subsidies to corporations and the wealthy.

  19. Really, I spell it “Mohammedan.”

  20. Do ministers work on Sunday? Or are they only channeling?

  21. I’ll keep it short, in the interests of freedom from blogs. 😉

    No, I do not expect anyone to read my post. Humor is a dying artform, especially the satiric type, but then again I suppose so is the libertarian party.

    Ah, but it got all of you to perk up, didn’t it?

    In my attempt to explain my position, I became long-winded with the type of theory that one only has to read once and throw away.

    My apologies. The PR for “weirdness” was cornered a long time ago. Yet again proving that regardless of ideology, people can be a recalcitrant, unsupple bunch.

    I am already aware of Reason’s position regarding a lot of things; making the point via the extreme is a grand tradition, no?

    But in the interests of civil decorum, let’s keep away from the ad hominums… I would be interested in hearing how people actually define the difference between government and the market: is it a matter of coercion or less than that?

    Let’s have a little competition on the best definition. 🙂

  22. kwais,

    Yes, if only the nanny state people could find somewhere else to go. Even five years ago I had a stranger yell at me to put a helmet on when I was completely legally riding my bicycle on a lightly traveled road to get to work one morning. With any luck, he’s already moved on. Fucking asshole.

    My memory must be faulty, because I remember medical marijuana losing 60-40, which seems like a big margin to me.

    js,

    Yes, I completely agree that the lack of NV state income tax is more than offset by other “fees.” One of the more obvious examples is the last legislature passed a 1 billion dollar tax increase, which is serious money for this state. So few people complained about it the Nevada Supreme Court will completely get away with ignoring our Constitution to let it through with a simple majority vote in the legislature. Oh, and I’m probably going to see my property taxes increase by 50% ($1000/year) in the next two years because of the ridiculous run up in home prices.

  23. Who outside of the deep south spells it “moslems?” Crazy Kristchuns.

    Tens or hundreds of millions of people? It’s an accepted variant spelling, found in any English dictionary.

  24. (This is a lengthy response intended to answer several people. I hope you will bear with me.)

    If you create a law, amend it several times as part of a process of incremental social change (so that you do not politically offend people, while still allowing everybody to secretly buy their 99 cent hamburgers on Sunday), and THEN you make the mistake of creating an unintended advantage for religious people who would actually want to worship on a particular day (even if they can’t because they would lose their job), don’t complain because it unintentionally benefits religion.

    If you want to complain that people take advantage of the legislative process, then complain every time someone takes advantage of handicap laws that place onerous burdens upon businesses to build special ramps even if no one uses them. Or complain about corporate subsidies written into the tax code which provide unfair advantage to big business over small business. Perhaps the intentions were good, but so what? Someone, somewhere has taken advantage of it.

    Does that make it wrong simply because people have taken advantage? Or are people really that jealous of each other, that they would make their own advantage a denial of someone else’s? Hmmm, maybe the law doesn’t need to pretend to be a moral enforcer as long as no one has any advantages over anyone else. Maybe legislators can do better by never intending to do anything so no one takes advantage of anything. Let’s leave it up to the automatic process of large government bureaucracies, with the best of intentions. Then we can all walk around with a limp given to us by people who claim so in the name of fairness.

    Considering that some people view religious faith as both a handicap and a big business, this comparison might not be too far-removed. This time, bureaucracy has been given the limp in the name of religion and one would guess people interested in liberty would be happy at this deliciously twisted outcome. Except it would seem that I’m wrong.

    But really, governments are a part of the same market as the rest of us. Government is not established in a vacuum. It must be created within the surrounding society of common principles, goods and services, and the information exchange that makes it possible to meet the law of supply and demand, whatever the product is.

    The rule of law comes about because the producers in the marketplace decided how to play fair. Influencing the legislative process occurs within the same overall “market,” just as influencing the stock value of a company. It’s not as if market behavior suddenly stops simply because it’s a political or a religious value, or if it has political or religious origination.

    Market-thinking is a way of looking at the world which doesn’t necessarily possess mere ideological boundaries. Hypothetically, if enough people would make enough poor decisions, I suppose we could wind up with communism. But the fact that communism could be the end-result does not imply that communism’s economic imperatives represent the “market,” any more than capitalism does. The market occurs irrespective of how good a capitalist you are, doesn’t it?

    And certainly, a natural disaster is different than a man-made disaster, but … the outcome is still a disaster. If you build your house on the beach and it gets destroyed, people would tell you to expect the risk. If you build your company in Virginia, it’s the same principle. Expect a risk.

    People can claim ignorance of the law, just like they can claim ignorance of a 100-year flood plain which suddenly fills with water, but the principle is the same. If the law is so arcane that you lose certainty of its results, or your house is built on a beach, isn’t it your responsibility to know your risk and accept the fact that occasionally you’re going to get soaked? Accept the loss, and rebuild better and more prudently next time without the government bailing you out for taking advantage of a legal process which has suddenly turned against you (like FEMA flood insurance for beach houses).

    Here are a few questions I wish people would answer:

    1.
    There aren’t exceptions for individual citizens to obey the law. Why should anybody think that there should be judicial exceptions for businesses from the law? Is it only when legislators accidentally favor people who have beliefs that are not considered materially– and therefore practically– valuable to a business, if those people don’t work certain days?

    2.
    Why is everybody scared that people are going to run out and suddenly “find religion?” That’s an insult to the strength of all people’s beliefs. If someone decides they like the idea of going to work on Sundays for triple-pay, then the market for atheists just went up. But when you put a minimum dollar-value on religion, then people get nervous because they have to ask whether or not they’re getting their money’s worth, or if their own beliefs lack depth.

    3.
    Further, why would anybody consider the desire to practice religion outmoded, unless there is an inability to consider culture as more than a closed-system of one’s own preconceived notions about what warrants acceptable behavior, particularly as it is affected by belief? Do people still associate the quaint notion of belief linked to behavior anymore?

    4.
    Let’s suppose a note from God dropped out of the sky and it read “That’s okay, you don’t have to worry about Sabbath stuff.” Do you think businesses would care where the note came from? No, because what would matter is the practical effect. So why would people care whether or not religion is the excuse for a law which mandates time-off to practice your beliefs, whatever they are? Unless, somehow, it causes people to discuss a taboo which makes them nervous? As if society would fall apart if artificial social-class distinctions weren’t maintained. Using the excuse of keeping religion out of government so that religious practice is only the benefit of those who have better jobs where they can afford to worship on the “proper” and morally superior day-of-the-week? Would people stand for that outcome, if that was the reason for the legislation? Unfortunately, it is another unintended result.

    All of this would mean a debate about God. And as we have seen from many recent government decisions, whatever you want to call “God” is a pawn in a game of watered-down civil religion where it’s okay to believe as long as there’s no substantive effort required– either for the state to recognize religion as more than an abstraction, or as better than an inscrutable menace.

  25. Joe,
    You really don’t expect anyone to read that book you just posted do you?

  26. kwais,

    As a native Nevadan, and current Las Vegan, I can tell you that Nevada is one of the most conservative states in the U.S. We will NOT modify our state Constitution to legalize Marijuana, no matter what the folks at NORML will tell you. Marriage was recently (2002) defined by our state Constitution to be between ONLY a man and a woman, just to make sure that the law we already had on the books was harder to repeal. Drug offenses in this state and prostitution in the more populous counties are just as harshly dealt with by the cops as they are in any other state. The Mormons have a strong presence in southern Nevada, probably only behind the Catholics and maybe Lutherans. Non-small-town Nevada (about 90% of the state’s population) will almost certainly continue to be socially conservative outside of the casinos for quite some time. The casinos are only zoned on about 5% of the land in the Metropolitan areas. Nevada is not by ANY measure I can see a libertarian mecca.

  27. No, I do not expect anyone to read my post. Humor is a dying artform, especially the satiric type, but then again I suppose so is the libertarian party.

    Ah, but it got all of you to perk up, didn’t it?

    In other words, Joe Middelkoop is an admitted troll.

  28. Nick is right about the blue laws, alright. Living in The People’s Republic of Connecticut in “enlightened” Southern New England, I have had the HORROR of running out of beer at a Sunday family outing and know that it is ILLEGAL in Connecticut for our “package stores” to sell alcohol on Sundays(in Puritan CT, you bought “packages” which were carefully concealed beer/booze in non-seethrough bags therefore sparing the emotions of non-drinkers from the savage mental anguish of seeing an alcoholic container). PLEEEEEZE! NICK! Let REASON attack the stupidity of the “Blue-Law that would not die” here in CT and let me buy beer in my local super market (Which is concealed by pull down shutters on Sundays). The law was up for review just recently and was shot down again! The Blue law stands! HELP! we are stuck in 1690!

  29. Nick is right about the blue laws, alright. Living in The People’s Republic of Connecticut in “enlightened” Southern New England, I have had the HORROR of running out of beer at a Sunday family outing and know that it is ILLEGAL in Connecticut for our “package stores” to sell alcohol on Sundays(in Puritan CT, you bought “packages” which were carefully concealed beer/booze in non-seethrough bags therefore sparing the emotions of non-drinkers from the savage mental anguish of seeing an alcoholic container). PLEEEEEZE! NICK! Let REASON attack the stupidity of the “Blue-Law that would not die” here in CT and let me buy beer in my local super market (Which is concealed by pull down shutters on Sundays). The law was up for review just recently and was shot down again! The Blue law stands! HELP! we are stuck in 1690!

  30. Nick,
    The answer to your question is: Yes.

  31. Medical marijuana is legal in Nevada, that ballot initiative succeeded. The one that lost 60-40 (actually 61-39) was the “legalization” initiative in 2002.

    Browsing the NORML site, NV’s MJ laws are somewhere in middle. States like MS have $100 fines and no incarceration for 30g or less-with felony charges for +30g, whereas NV has $600 fines for any amount first offense.

    It’s also worth noting that NV is the only state where the penalties for possession change based on age. It’s a felony for people under 21-this also makes NV the only state where first time possession of a small amount can result in felony charges.

  32. Two observations:
    First, when I lived in New London back in the 80’s and early 90’s you couldn’t even buy a beer to go after 7:45 pm for any amount of money. However, on many street corners, crack was availible any time of day or night, priced (I assume) at market rates. The deeper meaning of this is left as an exercise for the reader.

    Second, the no package sales after 8:00 pm was pushed through at the urging of package store owners back in the early 70’s. Package store hold-ups were turning ugly, lots of clerks were getting shot. Since the robberies all happened after dark as a rule, the store owners wanted to close early, but none of them wanted to lose biz to the guy down the street who was willing to risk his or his clerks life for the night time sales. So they all got together and passed a law. Not really a blue law issue then. But what would a libertarian call it?

  33. Naw, I’m not a troll …

    Only those who humorlessly fail to see the paradoxical irony in my quoted statement would call me one.

    Please, spare me the platitudes.

    And yet, to date, no one has answered my questions. Seriously.

    So to excuse a lack of an intelligent, responsive comeback to my questions, you would call the absence of a response by other readers, the proof of my sins?

    Would a troll take time to respond to your silly frothing?

    A troll by virtue of your failure to think up anything better in response to the substance of my statments?

    Eh? That’s pretty weak, if you ask me.

    Yet again, the lack of some people’s thought here amazes me. Sometimes, I would just rather read Spengler, here:

    http://www.atimes.com/atimes/others/spengler.html

    Long live competition! It’s just a shame that this post will have dropped so far down that nobody will read it. 🙂 Who knows, maybe not.

  34. Gawd damn, here I go again.

    I like the 40 hour work week. Can’t help it. Could be wrong, but as a former manager I can tell you I would have made my min wagers work 80 if I could have gotten away with it. I would have liked to whip them to, but them damn liberals been treading on my rights again, I mean if the market declares I got me a butt load of peasansts starving, why shouldn’t I be allowed to shorten thier lives a bit. They are free to be born higher up on the ladder like everyone else, ain’t they?

    But really, does the “right to take a day of sabbath” equal blue laws telling a business they can’t sell this or that (in my home town of Chi it was cars they couldn’t sell on Sunday).

    It seems to me one is a blanket cover of the right to have what seems pretty universal in religons, a day of sabbath, not a disrespect of the market saying you can’t do it at all. I don’t know, I lean both ways on this one and it’s keeping me on the fence.

  35. The Sabbath Day is A Saturday, not Sunday.
    Jesus is a Jew. He did not start a new Relgion.
    His Name is Yeshua (there is no J in Hebrew) and he never never never celebrated any Sunday as a holiday or Sabbath. He was conceived on Channukah, Born on Tabernacles, Crucified on Passover, Raised of Festival of First Fruits.

    When is His return? Rosh HaShannah.
    When does Heavens gate close? Yom Kippur.

    Are you not tired of being ripped off, lied to and your Saviour being removed from you? Your comforter, your healer, your protector, your salvation (that’s what Yeshua means).

    Don’t need to beleive me, just ask, cry out to God and sincerely ask. See what happens.

  36. The Sabbath Day is A Saturday, not Sunday.
    Jesus is a Jew. He did not start a new Relgion.
    That was Constantine and the Catholic Church that changed the Sabbath day, they admit to it. See the Holy See website.

    His Name is Yeshua (there is no J in Hebrew) and he never never never celebrated any Sunday as a holiday or Sabbath. He was conceived on Channukah, Born on Tabernacles, Crucified on Passover, Raised of Festival of First Fruits.

    When is His return? Rosh HaShannah.
    When does Heavens gate close? Yom Kippur.

    Are you not tired of being ripped off, lied to and your Saviour being removed from you? Your comforter, your healer, your protector, your salvation (that’s what Yeshua means).

    Don’t need to beleive me, just ask, cry out to Yeshua and sincerely ask. See what happens.

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