Dispatches from the Creation Wars

Get Rid of Blue Laws

Just how embarrassed must this guy feel for making the following statements:

Massachusetts’ attorney general is launching an investigation into several supermarkets that opened on Thanksgiving in defiance of the state’s Puritan-era Blue Laws.

The laws were passed in the 1600s to keep colonists at home or in church on Sundays. Parts of the laws, such as the ban on Sunday liquor sales, have been repealed, but a prohibition on most stores doing business on Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day, has not.

“If these stores want to open, there’s a way to do it: Change the law,” David Guarino, a spokesman for Attorney General Thomas F. Reilly, told The Boston Globe. The office didn’t say what sort of penalty the stores could face.

The Globe reported that at least six stores, all Super 88 Markets, were open on Thanksgiving. One Super 88, in Quincy, shut down after a visit from police that day.

Imagine being David Guarino and having to tell the media – with a straight face, presumably – that the Attorney General is launching an investigation of such a ridiculous “crime”. For that matter, imagine being the Attorney General and, apparently, having so little real crime to deal with that you actually take the time to launch an investigation into the illegal sale of condensed milk. Is this really where our law enforcement priorities lie? Has the state of Massachusetts so thoroughly stamped out real crimes that they have are reduced to prosecuting cashiers for selling cranberry sauce to undercover agents?

Jeff Jacoby had an excellent article on the Massachusetts blue laws in the Boston Globe the day before Thanksgiving. He noted that Attorney General Thomas Reilly had been threatening other supermarkets that they would face penalties if they opened on Thanksgiving, even if their employees volunteered to work and were paid double time:

Consider the plight of Whole Foods Market, an international chain of natural and organic food stores, which found itself accused of planning to engage in criminal activity in its 14 Massachusetts stores this week.

What high crimes and misdemeanors was the upscale grocer plotting? It was going to open its doors for business on Thanksgiving. Shocking! It was going to sell fruit and vegetables and milk and desserts. And why? Because, as company executive David Lannon told the Globe last week, Whole Foods knows that on the most food-oriented day of the year, some consumers run out of ingredients. ”It proves to be a very busy morning for people to get flour or baked goods,” Lannon explained. ”It’s for people . . . who say, ‘Ooh, I need more butter or another bunch of celery.’ ”

In short, Whole Foods was going to make its wares available to Massachusetts customers on Thanksgiving — just as it does for customers in Connecticut, New Jersey, New York, and two-dozen other states nationwide. Bay State consumers panicked over an eleventh-hour shortage of dried apricots or hazelnut extract would have been able to get what they needed before the in-laws showed up at the front door. Whole Foods employees wouldn’t have been required to work, but those volunteering would have earned double pay. Willing seller, willing buyers, willing workers — an economist looking at such an arrangement would have seen the free market at its best.

The attorney general of Massachusetts looked at it and saw a crime. In a stiff letter to Whole Foods last week, Attorney General Thomas Reilly noted that under Chapter 136 of the Massachusetts legal code, ”the performance of work on legal holidays is prohibited, unless permitted by a statutory exemption.” If Whole Foods opened its doors on Thanksgiving, the letter warned, it could face ”criminal and equitable enforcement actions to enjoin violations of the Blue Laws.”

I say it’s time to repeal these idiotic laws. The government’s job is to protect us from victimization, not from the convenience of being able to pick up last minute ingredients for our peach cobbler.

Comments

  1. #1 Jim Anderson
    November 26, 2005

    I’m sure this can be spun somehow into the greater web of the War on Christmas.

  2. #2 Troy Britain
    November 26, 2005

    This is the sort of stupidity that further encourages the voice in the back on my mind that tells me we should nuke ourselves into oblivion and give the cockroaches a chance to run the place.

  3. #3 Troy Britain
    November 26, 2005

    (Doh!) That’s “…back OF my mind…”

  4. #4 Todd Larason
    November 26, 2005

    It may be that the Attorney General agrees with you and sees enforcing the laws as a way to pressure the legislature into repealing them. I’ve been told that’s how Prohibition finally ended in Oklahoma in the early 1960s: the anti-prohibition governor enforced the law against Rotary, Elks, Moose, etc lodges, and they in turn pressured their previously pro-prohibition legislators.

  5. #5 Ed Brayton
    November 26, 2005

    Todd Larason wrote:

    It may be that the Attorney General agrees with you and sees enforcing the laws as a way to pressure the legislature into repealing them. I’ve been told that’s how Prohibition finally ended in Oklahoma in the early 1960s: the anti-prohibition governor enforced the law against Rotary, Elks, Moose, etc lodges, and they in turn pressured their previously pro-prohibition legislators.

    Well if that’s the case, the AG isn’t saying so. He’s defending the investigation and sending out lots of threats.

  6. #6 Tim Makinson
    November 26, 2005

    It strikes me as rather odd that it is Christmas Day, New Years Day & Thanksgiving that get the (surviving) protection, rather than the more purely religious (and of greater religious significance) Good Friday and Easter Sunday (or even Sundays generally). The surviving list would appear to be cultural sacred cows rather than spiritual ones — which is presumably different from the Puritans’ original intent.

  7. #7 Tanooki Joe
    November 26, 2005

    Also, it would be nice if we could start getting mail on Sunday again. Is there any defensible reason that we shouldn’t?

  8. #8 raj
    November 27, 2005

    I live in MA and have never heard of the Super 88 chain of markets.

    I don’t know about Jacoby’s piece (he’s such an idiot that I don’t bother reading his columns) but it was reported elsewhere in the Globe that the MA AttyGen got involved in the WholeFoods (formerly Bread & Circus, and we do most of our shopping there) because a competing supermarket (Shaws, a rather downscale supermarket, which also owns Star Market–another downscale supermarket) complained. Shaw’s at some 200 stores in MA, is several times the size of WholeFoods in MA, so you can tell where the political payoffs are coming from.

    Shaw’s complaint to the MA AttyGen was grounded in the rather absurd assertion that, if WholeFoods was permitted to open on TurkeyDay, that would reduce consumer choice. I guess it did not occur to Shaws (although it did occur to me) that they could also open on TurkeyDay. Their plaints on behalf of consumers was absolutely idiotic.

    BTW, when I was living in Columbus OH in the early 1970s, one chain of grocery stores (I forget the name) was open on TurkeyDay. Primarily to let the men have a reason to get out of the house at least in the morning and early afternoon while the women are manipulating the turkey baster. Yes, I know that that might be viewed as a sexist remark–and I mean it in jest–but it is true.

    This is one more reason that I–a MA state resident–despise Tom Reilly, although he will probably be the next state governor. He is nothing more than a media whore. His persecution of the Amiraults in the Fells Acres Day School child molestation case was nothing short of shameful. But the Republicans have refused to put anyone to compete against him. Gov. Mitt Romney–the governor who is running away fron the state of which he is ostensibly governor? Kerry Healy (Romney’s Lt. Gov, and who will probably be the next Republican candidate for governor, although she, like most Republican politicians in the state is a cypher)?

  9. #9 CJ Croy
    November 27, 2005

    [quote]The surviving list would appear to be cultural sacred cows rather than spiritual ones — which is presumably different from the Puritans’ original intent.[/quote]
    I’d bet money that the Blue Laws were modified in a manner that the Puritans were proud of. Chances are that some legislator REALLY wanted to keep people in on Christmas, so he decided to cloak his sectarian objectives by also saying stores couldn’t open on Thanksgiving and New Years Day, a pair of very secular holidays.

    Maybe my hunch is right, maybe it’s wrong. Either way, I’d love to see the legistlative history on the Blue Laws in MA.

  10. #10 John
    November 27, 2005

    I agree that blue laws should be lifted. I live in New York State, and although most stores can be open on Sunday’s and Holiday’s, they are only open for reduced hours. I think it’s 11 to 6 on Sunday’s. It’s very annoying after 6 not to be able to go out and do anything on Sunday’s. Makes no sense. If the law is for Church, that’s usually in the morning. Interestingly, Borders and Barnes and Noble are open past 6. Wonder how they can do it. On Thanksgiving this year, I drove to my sisters in Massachusetts forgetting to stop at a store here in NY to bring her some wine or food for the day. I stopped at a store in MA on my way, and found them all closed. Very annoying.

    But to argue for the other side, I work for an insurance company. We get only 7 Holidays a year that the office is closed. But if the Holiday actually falls on the weekend and the holiday is celebrated on a week day, or if it’s the day after Thanksgiving, the company opens with a limited staff. When this happens, they ask for volunteers to work it. The catch is, that if no one volunteers, they will pull a name out of a hat and make that person work. So suddenly what was supposed to be volunteer has now become forced. Also, as I am a single man, I am usually pressured to work, so that employees with kids won’t have to. Completely ignoring the fact that I do have family who live an hour and a 1/2 away in Massachusetts who I would like to spend holiday’s with. Last year I got stuck working two of those Holiday’s, so I ended the year with just 5 Holiday’s.

    So that is the problem with opening on holidays. What is supposed to be voluntary, can actually become quite forced. What would the stores allowed to open due if no one volunteered? You might argue that that wouldn’t happen, but it sure does at my company, and we have a large number of employees.
    Just thought I’d throw that out there.

  11. #11 Ed Brayton
    November 27, 2005

    Tim Makinson wrote:

    It strikes me as rather odd that it is Christmas Day, New Years Day & Thanksgiving that get the (surviving) protection, rather than the more purely religious (and of greater religious significance) Good Friday and Easter Sunday (or even Sundays generally). The surviving list would appear to be cultural sacred cows rather than spiritual ones — which is presumably different from the Puritans’ original intent.

    Well the protection of Christmas surely is. The Puritans viewed Christmas as a pagan holiday and actually made it illegal to celebrate it at one point.

  12. #12 Ed Brayton
    November 27, 2005

    John wrote:

    So that is the problem with opening on holidays. What is supposed to be voluntary, can actually become quite forced. What would the stores allowed to open due if no one volunteered? You might argue that that wouldn’t happen, but it sure does at my company, and we have a large number of employees.

    While I’m sure that’s quite inconvenient for you, I’d just note that it’s not really the job of the government to make sure you’re never inconvenienced. At the very least, I’d say that it doesn’t justify inconveniencing everyone else on the other side to make sure you’re not. In order to prevent you from having to work, it has to deny to many others the right to work, and even to work for higher pay, when they want to. They also have to prevent consumers from being able to find last minute items that they need for their holiday, and prevent businesses from selling their wares at a profit. So how does the government decide which of these indulgences is most important? I would argue it’s not within their authority to do so, it’s up to each individual business owner and employee to decide for themselves when to be open, whether to work and, in the case of conflict, whether to continue working at a place that so inconveniences them.

  13. #13 spyder
    November 27, 2005

    Until i worked on a commission to purge the County of LA, and later the State of CA of various centuries old blue laws, there were a wide varieties of proscriptions against behaviors that any prosecutor with a deeply-seeded passion for vengeance could use to persecute almost anyone. I am suspicious of these laws in MA. It is more than likely that many many other ones currently exist and are more nefarious than not participating in commerce on designated special days.

    It maybe that the AG and his backers are using these particular ones as a lever to open the larger can of rotten and foul regulation of lives.

  14. #14 raj
    November 27, 2005

    John’s comment quoted by Ed above (regarding voluntariness) would have more credibility in regards the Whole Foods case if the complaint was actually raised by a WF employee. There was no suggestion that any WF employee complained. The complaint was raised by a competitor.

    WF prides itself on being considered one of the best employers in the US to work for.

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