Free Spirits

Sunday liquor sales


Laws forcing liquor stores to close on Sunday, once the norm in the United States, are disappearing at an accelerating rate. In the last decade, 16 states have legalized the sale of distilled spirits throughout the week, and this year the District of Columbia will follow suit.

According to the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States, only a dozen states still ban liquor sales on Sunday: Alabama, Indiana, Minnesota, Mississippi, Montana, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, and West Virginia. Of the remaining 38 states, 16 allow local governments to ban Sunday sales, and four restrict Sunday sales (by state-run stores) to certain areas.

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. 

Counterintuitively, 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. "It'd be a hardship for us," Michael Fonseca, a spokesman for a group representing liquor merchants, told the D.C. Council during last year's debate over legalizing Sunday sales in the nation's capital. "I work six days a week. I don't want to work seven."