(Period Covered: 1/1/1998 through 1/1/2012)
This policy topic covers laws banning Sunday sales of alcoholic beverages for off-premises consumption as of January 1, 1998 and repeals from that date forward.
Note: The secondary literature and the laws and regulations related to this policy topic use a variety of terms that are sometimes used in different ways by different jurisdictions. To see definitions for these terms as they are used in APIS, see the Definitions heading below.
Most States place limits on the days and times when alcohol may be sold, and these restrictions vary widely across jurisdictions. Many States have strictly limited the sale of alcohol on Sundays. This policy topic identifies States that banned Sunday sales of alcoholic beverages for off-premises consumption as of January 1, 1998, and tracks repeals of these bans from that date forward. No State bans Sunday sales for on-premises consumption. Thus, this policy analysis is limited to off-premises sales only. Many States prohibit virtually all Sunday sales, but provide minor exceptions that have little effect on total sales volume. These States are included in the "ban" category.
Bans on Sunday sales first appeared prior to the Revolutionary War as part of the colonies' blue laws (so called because they were published on blue paper in some colonies); pre-Revolutionary blue laws prohibited breaking the Sabbath by working, shopping, or consuming alcohol on Sundays. Enforcement of these laws declined after the American Revolution but regained momentum during the temperance movement leading up to Prohibition. Bans on Sunday sales reappeared in many States after the repeal of Prohibition, in some cases because the preexisting bans from the temperance era had never been repealed. States with Sunday bans have been reconsidering these restrictions in recent years with a particular focus on their impact on tax revenues and economic activity..
Although some States have total bans on all Sunday off-premises alcohol sales, other States have minor exceptions that do not affect their classification as ban States. For example, States that allow tastings at wineries on Sundays, or that allow for sales on a particular Sunday holiday or during a special event (e.g., New Year's Eve, a festival, or Super Bowl Sunday) but otherwise prohibit Sunday sales are included in the APIS analysis as "ban" States. APIS does not address these minor exceptions in its analysis. States are classified as not having a ban if they allow significant Sunday sales, even if they impose some restrictions, e.g., beer can be sold but not distilled spirits. A description of the classification criteria employed by APIS is provided in the Definitions section. Because of the variability of Sunday sales restrictions in States that do not have bans, comparisons between States with and without bans should be made with care.
Only States that had Sunday sales bans in place as of January 1, 1998 are included in the APIS analysis. Research conducted for this policy topic confirms that there have been no new Sunday sales bans enacted in any State since that date. APIS tracks the repeal of these statutes from the January 1, 1998 baseline forward, providing the basis for determining the impact of these repeals.
A State may have lifted its ban in stages, e.g., first allowing Sunday sales of a specific type of alcoholic beverages or in limited locations and then expanding the exceptions or repealing Sunday-specific restrictions entirely. Once a State allows Sunday sales beyond very minimal exceptions (see above for general discussion and Variables section for specifics), APIS considers that State to no longer have a ban. Any changes that remove additional restrictions are summarized in notes to the comparison tables for this policy.
APIS explicitly recognizes two types of exceptions to bans on Sunday sales. One exception is for statutes that permit local governments to enact Sunday sales ordinances that are less restrictive than the State ban. These "local option" laws are included when they are explicit and included in a jurisdiction's Sunday sales ban legislation. Courts may confer similar authority to local governments through interpretations of more general statutory or constitutional provisions that are not specific to Sunday sales. The APIS analysis includes only those provisions based on specific Sunday sales statutes.
Note that "local option" can also refer to State laws and court opinions in States without a Sunday sales ban. In these cases, local governments are permitted to impose restrictions on Sunday sales beyond any restrictions found in State law. APIS does not track these forms of local variations in State law pertaining to Sunday sales.
The second type of exception is for States that ban Sunday sales for all alcoholic beverages EXCEPT beer with an alcohol content of 3.2 percent or less alcohol content by weight (3.2 beer).
 Miller, S., "In battle for Sunday, the 'blue laws' are falling," Christian Science Monitor, December 5, 2003. Available at: http://www.csmonitor.com/2003/1205/p01s02-usju.html.