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Voters Could Have a Chance to Repeal North Dakota's Insane Blue Laws

Chairs, mirrors, shoes, clothing, and more can't be sold before noon on Sundays. But at least you can buy a beer at 11 a.m.

Benjamin Rondel/NewscomBenjamin Rondel/NewscomThere are a dozen states that don't allow alcohol to be sold on Sunday. In 17 states, it's illegal to buy a car on Sunday.

Those are probably the best-known examples of so-called "Blue Laws," a legacy of the puritanical spirit and prohibitionist instincts that still color lawmaking in America today. They don't make much sense once you try to apply a little logic, but they are usually not much more than minor inconveniences.

Not so in North Dakota, where state lawmakers have taken blue laws to incomparable lengths.

It is illegal there, for example, to buy clothing or shoes before noon on Sundays. It's also illegal to buy pots or pans, silverware, and any other sort of kitchenware. It's illegal to buy curtains, draperies, blinds, and window shades. It's illegal to buy beds, mattresses, linens, sheets, and blankets. It's illegal to buy furniture, appliances, and luggage. It's illegal to buy mirrors, lawnmowers, lamps, and air conditioners.

It's technically legal on Sunday mornings to buy clothing for infants or for "transient travelers under emergency conditions," just like it's technically legal to buy hardware for "emergency plumbing, heating, cooling, or electrical repair," but good luck finding a store that's open before noon to sell it to you. Since almost anything that you'd buy in big box store, a mid-sized home goods store, or a small town hardware store is off-limits, most of them are closed until noon.

And if you want to count the minutes until they open, I hope you bought a clock or watch on Saturday. Buying any sort of timepiece is illegal too.

"North Dakota's current prohibition on Sunday morning shopping is arcane, unfair, and unenforceable," says Branden Medenwald, chairman of North Dakota Open on Sundays, a nonprofit working to end this state-enforced nonsense.

Medenwald is pushing to have a repeal of the state's blue laws on the ballot in 2018. His organization is in the process of collecting the 20,000 signatures necessary to make that happen.

"North Dakota doesn't dictate to farmers when to farm, hospitals when to practice medicine, or restaurants when to feed people. We are simply asking that all businesses, not just a chosen few, be allowed that same freedom," he wrote this week in an op-ed published at the Say Anything Blog, a website covering North Dakota politics.

Earlier this year, state lawmakers considered a bill that would have repealed all the state's blue laws except the all-day ban on car sales and the all-morning ban on alcohol sales. It failed to pass, but not before one state senator used the opportunity to condemn "selfish consumerism" while another argued it was unnecessary to repeal the blue laws because North Dakotans should "use that time to go to worship."

Aside from dealing a blow to the creepy notion that state lawmakers can tell people how to use their time, getting rid of the blue laws might have an actual, tangible benefit. Groups in favor of repeal—like the Greater North Dakota Association, the state's chamber of commerce—say getting rid of the bans would create jobs and benefit low-income workers.

North Dakota's blue laws also have become a vehicle for crony capitalism. Since 1967, the state has allowed some businesses to open early on Sundays, though it wasn't until 1991 that general retailers were allowed to open on Sunday afternoons. (Previously they were required to be closed all day.) There are now 39 exemptions written into the state law, covering everything from pharmacies to newsstands, and from restaurants to theaters.

By constantly expanding the exemptions, lawmakers have only added to the insanity.

For example, a 2015 amendment allowed for the sale of alcohol to begin at 11 a.m. on Sundays, specifically so bars could cater to football fans and brunch-goers. That means it's illegal to purchase a pair of shoes or a set of kitchen utensils on Sunday morning in North Dakota, but you can buy a round for all your friends at the local dive.

If that doesn't upend the puritanical logic behind blue laws, I don't know what does.

Meanwhile, if you want to buy a television set or a radio to watch or listen to the game, you are out of luck. The same is true if you want to buy an actual football: Sporting goods "other than those sold or rented on the premises where sports and recreational activities are conducted" are similarly banned from being sold.

"Repealing the Blue Law does not force businesses to open on Sunday mornings," Mendenwald points out on his group's Facebook page. "Repealing this law also does not force consumers to patronize these businesses on Sunday morning," he adds. What repeal does, he explains, is allow all "the freedom to choose how to spend their own time."

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  • Citizen X - #6||

    Earlier this year, state lawmakers considered a bill that would have repealed all the state's blue laws except the all-day ban on car sales and the all-morning ban on alcohol sales. It failed to pass, but not before one state senator used the opportunity to condemn "selfish consumerism" while another argued it was unnecessary to repeal the blue laws because North Dakotans should "use that time to go to worship."

    This is how you know that libertarianism is the best guiding principle of governance: because all others require these people to be the wisest, most thoughtful members society.

  • Tony||

    But the stupidest people I know are libertarians, so why should I want them to be in charge?

    You act like you'd just be sprinkling magic freedom dust on everything instead of setting up a policy regime. Sure probably you wouldn't ban liquor on Sundays. Fantastic. But you'd also make it so that children of poor parents have very little opportunity to succeed because of the radical individualistic nonsense you'd impose on everyone, whose moral justification depends on pretending that children don't exist.

  • Sevo||

    Tony|8.2.17 @ 11:15AM|#
    "But the stupidest people I know are libertarians, so why should I want them to be in charge?"

    And then you post and prove most imbecilic are thug-lufties.
    Fuck off.

  • Citizen X - #6||

    I can make up ridiculously false statements too, watch:

    Tony, your comment made a ton of sense and wasn't based on lies and misunderstandings at all.

  • Rhywun||

    "Tony is not a troll."

    Hey, this is fun!

  • Radioactive||

    "Tony is not a pernicious scum sucking douche bag"....hey you're right!

  • notJoe||

    "Tony offers the most well thought-out arguments."

  • Tony||

    So how do you justify a political philosophy of radical individualism given the fact that children exist?

  • Citizen X - #6||

    Because if you choose to bring another human being into the world, then you've necessarily chosen to be responsible for them until they can take care of themselves. Being free to choose doesn't mean being free of the consequences of your choice. This isn't hard to see, Tony.

  • Tony||

    The consequences of your choice? You mean feeling bad if your child starves?

    As if it weren't obvious, I don't think you've thought through these things as much as you need to.

  • Citizen X - #6||

    Fortunately, i don't give a fuck what you think.

  • Tony||

    Stick your fingers in your ears, hang onto that dogma despite its glaring flaws, and then expect me to want to put you in charge of everything. Thus we circle back to the problem.

  • Citizen X - #6||

    And the point sails so far over Tony's head that it's endangering satellites in low orbit. Sad!

  • notJoe||

    expect me to want to put you in charge of everything

    Hey, your jackboot-licking statism is showing again. Unlike you, libertarians don't want to be in charge of everything.

  • Citizen X - #6||

    "Unlike you, libertarians don't want to be in charge of everything."

    Probably hundreds of Hit'n'Runners have explained this to Tony over the last eight or so years. He doesn't get it. He probably could get it, but he's not interested in understanding libertarianism even enough to construct an honest argument against it. I'm as guilty as anyone of forgetting this basic fact, but Tony isn't here to debate libertarians, because that would imply that he's willing to grapple honestly with facts.

    It's not clear why he comes here, really. Maybe he likes being abused.

  • Rhywun||

    It's not clear why he comes here, really.

    Sure it is. He's a troll. His mission in life is to try to discredit us.

  • Citizen X - #6||

    His mission in life is to try to discredit us.

    You'd think he'd try harder.

  • Murgatroyd||

    Adopting libertarianism philosophy as government policy doesn't mean that libertarians are in charge of everything. It means that you are in charge of you, and I am in charge of me and neither of us can be in charge of the other.

    However, under certain circumstances people may decide to act as a caretaker and steward of another person's rights. This can be if both parties mutually agree to this arrangement (legal guardianship, power of attorney, etc.) or it can happen if an individual is incapable of freely exercising their own rights. Children lack the intelligence, maturity and understanding to exercise full autonomy over themselves, so parents act as temporary stewards of a child's rights until the child is an adult. This same situation can also occur when adults are mentally or physically incapacitated and another adult cares for them. Obviously there is a role for the state in helping to protect the rights of the person whose well-being is being held in stewardship, just as there is a role for the state to protect the rights of every individual.

    As someone who has expressed concern over the influence of fundamentalist Christians on government policy, I would think that you would find a society ordered on libertarian principles to be very appealing. In a libertarian society, Bible Bob the Puritan has no ability to use the reins of government power to affect the way you live your life.

  • notJoe||

    In a libertarian society, Bible Bob the Puritan has no ability to use the reins of government power to affect the way you live your life.

    That's all well and good but Tony still wants the ability to use the reins of government power to affect the way we live our lives. The tradeoff isn't worth it to him so he's more than willing to give Bible Bob his turn at the wheel when necessary.

  • notJoe||

    Stupid HTML tags.

  • IceTrey||

    Except we don't want anyone to be in charge of everything. That's kind of the point of radical individualism.

  • notJoe||

    You mean feeling bad if your child starves?

    Because yeah, libertarians totally want to starve children and the disabled. It says so right in our manifesto...

    Or just fucking maybe noone outside of the Snidely Whiplash libertarian stand-in occupying Tony's skull full of mush actually want to stop private charity and, as a backstop, the public sector, from caring for those who can't help themselves.

    Yet another in Tony's unbroken line of strawmen.

    Tony: arguing in bad faith makes you a bad person.

  • Zeb||

    Yeah, no one ever helped starving children before they were forced to by government.

  • Citizen X - #6||

    Remember, Tony has argued in the past that parents wouldn't take care of their kids if the government didn't make them.

    This says a lot of really sad stuff about Tony, not so much about parenting in general.

  • ||

    So how do you justify a political philosophy of radical individualism given the fact that children exist?

    Considering children are radically individual, fundamentally, your opposition can only be construed as a dislike or hatred of them.

    I'm curious, if you see two children, one playing happily with two toys and the other complacently accepting a toyless existence, do you honestly feel compelled to seize both toys and redistribute them equally?

  • notJoe||

    You have to ask?

  • Radioactive||

    Would grab both for himself

  • notJoe||

    I larfed.

  • Longtobefree||

    I feel compelled to seize them both, sell them on ebay to raise money to hire a bureaucrat to administer the left over funds in a study of why 'toy inequality' exists.

  • Tom Bombadil||

    Guys, take a moment from your Tony-bashing to consider how absolutely wretched it must be, to be Tony. It's possible that he, like Gollum, has some role to play.

  • Citizen X - #6||

    It doesn't matter how miserable a guy is in his own life, or why he's miserable - if he tries to spread that misery around, he's the one who's a dick.

  • Tom Bombadil||

    I didn't really believe what I wrote, I just wanted to call Tony a wretch.

  • Citizen X - #6||

    Nothing wrong with that.

  • Tony||

    You would know, I suppose.

  • Radioactive||

    Ooooh, what a burn! Not

  • notJoe||

    Hey Tony! Say "Precioussssssss".

    Please?

  • notJoe||

    "Preciousssss governmentsessss"

  • ||

    like Gollum, has some role to play.

    Says you. Either someone else would've found The Ring or they wouldn't. And, AFAICT, that's pretty much the one main big reason not to skip straight to chucking him in the volcano.

    I mean, you're not exactly wrong, Jar Jar had a role to play, I'm just questioning the role itself's necessity or benefit.

  • Tom Bombadil||

    Jesus Christ, don't drag Jar Jar into this.

  • Rebel Scum||

    magic freedom dust

    **Obligatory band name reference**

    because of the radical individualistic nonsense you'd impose on everyone

    Voluntary interaction is "imposed"???. Tony, bro, listen. I know I say this a lot, but you really need to learn what words mean.

  • Zeb||

    But you'd also make it so that children of poor parents have very little opportunity to succeed

    You mean like the children of poor minorities who have been concentrated in public housing where little or no opportunity exists?

  • ||

    And corralled into failing public schools that dump them into communities in which all employment is outlawed by occupational licensing so that a significant percentage wind up in prison for victimless economic crimes?

    Yeah - pretty sure that's who he means.

  • Tom Bombadil||

    "Voters could have a chance to repeal North Dakota's Insane Blue Laws"

    Haven't voters always been responsible for those laws and haven't they had the chance to repeal them every time they elect a legislature?

  • Citizen X - #6||

    Yes, legislators are known for keeping campaign promises and doing exactly what their constituents want them to do.

  • Hugh Akston||

    Yes, assuming there were anti-blue-law candidates running in every district in every election and voters rejected them every time.

  • Tom Bombadil||

    I'm just saying North Dakotans might not be as bothered by North Dakota's Blue Laws as Reason contributors are.

  • albo||

    Good point. For generations, we PA residents kept electing lawmakers who didn't do a damn thing about our insane liquor laws.

  • Rhywun||

    And I'm sure "Team" is everything there just as much as in every other state.

  • Hugh Akston||

    Blue laws are notoriously hard to get rid of because they serve special interests like liquor store owners and car dealers who save money by not being open when people aren't shopping. These special interests always have a trade association that lobbies hard any time a politician floats the idea of eliminating them.

    North Dakotans might not storm the Bastille in order to repeal blue laws, but you can bet there would be a lot more of them at Walmart on Sunday morning after they were repealed.

    Diffuse vs Concentrated interests. Stated vs revealed preferences.

  • ||

    Blue laws are notoriously hard to get rid of because they serve special interests like liquor store owners and car dealers who save money by not being open when people aren't shopping.

    Yeah, the definition of 'Blue Law' I grew up with applied rather explicitly to a sin and on Sunday or similar holy day.

    Many of the ones Boehm and cohort seem to be ascribing to Blue Laws and religion by proxy are rather explicitly naked protectionism/cronyism under the guise of blue laws or even just coincidentally calling it a duck because the cronies involved like to go duck hunting on Sundays.

    I'd love to see the tortured religious (Christian? Puritan?) justification for banning the sale of mirrors on Sunday.

  • ||

    It isn't Boehm assigning the religious angle - read the linked news stories. The assemblymen in ND are literally making that point, stating it outright during the deliberations on a previous bill to "legalize Sunday morning shopping" for lack of a better term.

    One of them went off on a bizarre rant about how shopping on Sunday is an atheist plot to undermine Christianity in North Dakota, and then started going off about not being able to teach creationism in schools.

    So it isn't the Reason writers just pulling this stuff out of thin air because it ties in to a certain day of the week - the people backing keeping these laws in place are explicitly stating that they are doing so because Jesus.

  • Rhywun||

    One of them went off on a bizarre rant about how shopping on Sunday is an atheist plot to undermine Christianity in North Dakota, and then started going off about not being able to teach creationism in schools.

    This guy sounds like a parody lifted from a Stephen King novel.

  • ||

    It isn't Boehm assigning the religious angle - read the linked news stories. The assemblymen in ND are literally making that point, stating it outright during the deliberations on a previous bill to "legalize Sunday morning shopping" for lack of a better term.

    One of them went off on a bizarre rant about how shopping on Sunday is an atheist plot to undermine Christianity in North Dakota, and then started going off about not being able to teach creationism in schools.

    So it isn't the Reason writers just pulling this stuff out of thin air because it ties in to a certain day of the week - the people backing keeping these laws in place are explicitly stating that they are doing so because Jesus.

  • Longtobefree||

    Easy. Vanity is a sin. Done.

  • Unlabelable MJGreen||

    We'll have a better idea if they are able to vote on it directly.

  • Zeb||

    I doubt that blue laws are something that a lot of people consider a primary issue when deciding who to vote for. There are a lot of laws that pretty much everyone doesn't like that stay on the books because it's not a big enough issue to affect elections significantly.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    My constitution called for sunset provisions for all federal, state and local laws. It also called for mandatory term limits. (Like your representative? WELL FUCK YOU TOO BAD THE BUM GETS TOSSED.) It also required the admittance of fat chicks. Not really my thing but they're going to get fat eventually anyway. I mean, have you looked at their mothers? My constitution also kept the Second Amendment wording exactly the same. Weird.

  • geo1113||

    "use that time to go to worship."

    I have the ability to worship the God of my choice and buy a bottle of bourbon on a Sunday morning. It wouldn't be difficult at all.

  • albo||

    "North Dakota: Come for the oil wells, leave because of the blue laws. And the snow. All that damn snow."

  • Dillinger||

    "Repealing the Blue Law does not force businesses to open on Sunday mornings,"

    Branden Mendenwald and Common Sense are on the same path.

  • ||

    The very first comment from one of the linked news stories:

    "We already have six days of the week, that we can shop, why do we need the seventh day as a shopping day? Give people the day off.

    Those that worship the almighty dollar, want stores open on Sunday. I bet corporation officers from big box stores (Target, Walmart, etc.), do not work on Sunday. They probably take Saturday off, too.

    Several years ago, there was a Kmart open on Easter Sunday. I know, because I had a relative that worked there and had to work that day. Instead of spending Easter Sunday with the family, Kmart had to come first, because certain people worship the almighty dollar."

  • Citizen X - #6||

    This is why we can't have nice things.

  • Unlabelable MJGreen||

  • ||

    I love that I know exactly what you are referencing without being able to click that link here at work.

  • Dillinger||

    down with homework!

  • Hugh Akston||

    The shirt makes a good point.

  • Unlabelable MJGreen||

    I wasn't even gonna link to anything. I figured youtube wouldn't have the clip anyway, and was pleasantly surprised.

  • Rebel Scum||

    Instead of spending Easter Sunday with the family, Kmart had to come first

    I assume no one put a gun to your relatives head and forced them to work at kmart.

  • Dillinger||

    you don't know K-Mart.

  • Tony||

    You can't buy liquor on Sundays where I live (yet), and the resulting extra planning required if you want to drink on Sundays has not made anyone I know a more morally upstanding person, or even a better planner. Bad law. Sad. Repeal and replace.

  • Tom Bombadil||

    Mordor?

  • ||

    In 17 states, it's illegal to buy a car on Sunday.

    Those are probably the best-known examples of so-called "Blue Laws," a legacy of the puritanical spirit and prohibitionist instincts that still color lawmaking in America today.

    Uh... check your facts Boehm. I can't speak for all 17 states, but I know that for at least a few, it has little to nothing to do with puritans and/or prohibition and, in some cases, has everything to do with protectionism/cronyism. In IL, the law was written onto the books in '84 and started as an agreement among car dealers. The fact that the chosen day falls on Sunday is between tangential and irrelevant.

  • Rhywun||

    I'm trying but failing to understand the mindset behind "I want to do less business".

  • ||

    You've got your statist hat on backwards. It's not "I want to do less business.", it's "I want *you* to do less business."

  • LarryA||

    The theory is that demand for alcohol and cars is inelastic. If you want to drink or drive (not at the same time, of course) you will buy the booze or vehicle on Saturday or Monday. If they can save money by closing Sunday, it's a benefit.

  • Rich||

    "North Dakota doesn't dictate to farmers when to farm, hospitals when to practice medicine, or restaurants when to feed people."

    Well, why the hell NOT?

  • Rebel Scum||

    It's also illegal to buy pots or pans, silverware, and any other sort of kitchenware. It's illegal to buy curtains, draperies, blinds, and window shades. It's illegal to buy beds, mattresses, linens, sheets, and blankets. It's illegal to buy furniture, appliances, and luggage. It's illegal to buy mirrors, lawnmowers, lamps, and air conditioners.

    Freedom is illegal in a free country.

  • Rebel Scum||

    "selfish consumerism"

    It's "selfish" to buy something that someone is willing to sell when they are willing to sell it, you guys...

  • Longtobefree||

    "North Dakota doesn't dictate to farmers when to farm, hospitals when to practice medicine, or restaurants when to feed people."

    But it sure does tell them HOW to farm, heal, and feed. How about we get up a pool on the number of regulations in North Dakota on just those three industries. How is setting opening hours different?

    Of course, the best way to end the nonsense is to enrich a lawyer by suing on religious grounds. North Dakota is discriminating against all religions with a different Sabbath than Sunday. Prima Facie evidence of 'establishing' Christianity as the state religion.

  • Necron 99||

    When I moved to this little burb in Texas there were blue laws that applied to everyone, regardless of which god you talked to – and even if you didn't. However a certain sect of Seventh-Day Christians believed that their god commanded his followers to worship him on Saturday, and some of these members also owned and operated a lumber yard. They got an exemption to operate on Sunday and be closed on Saturday, making them the only hardware store/lumber yard open on Sunday in a hundred mile radius.

    They made money hand over fist for being the only place open Sunday where you could buy plumbing supplies and a 2x4. But to be fair, when the law was repealed so anyone can buy and sell 2x4's every day of the week, they still close on Saturday.

  • Robert||

    Read the statute. It explicitly doesn't apply on Sunday to those who keep a different sabbath day.

  • colorblindkid||

    I'm okay with local governments deciding this policy by vote. I grew up in North Jersey, and I don't blame the residents of Paramus for continuing to vote to keep their blue laws so they have one day of traffic reprieve a week. Retail sales in Paramus are also some of the highest in the country, even without sales on Sunday.

    However, there are plenty of places within 20 minutes that do sell on Sunday. Doing it in a large isolated state like North Dakota would suck a lot more.

  • patskelley||

    I vote we add all of the above to other cultural holy days and customs and not sell any of the above until sundown for Ramadan, and never on Saturday for the Jewish Sabbath, I don't know what Hindus do but am certain it is equally ridiculous, then sit back somewhere safe and watch the fun. Blue laws are among the silliest thing people allow to be done unto them for their own good. Baaaaaaa

  • Powhatan||

    It could still happen. But given the state mill, the pharmacy restrictions, et al. I wouldn't hold my breath.

    IIRC the loosening in 91 was driven by the retailers who realized a strong Canadian dollar was leading a lot Canucks to drive an hour or two south to shop for big and small ticket items. Maybe the problem today is that the reailers in ND don't see the sales they're losing online and elsewhere because of this?

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