Friday, March 14, 2014

The Law of Saint Patrick's Day

You may not have noticed, what with the approach of final exams and all, but Saint Patrick's Day is just around the corner.  What better time to take a look at some of America's St. Patrick's Day-related laws and court rulings?

Either Saint Patrick was a giant, or that is one tiny church. Or, you know, symbolism.
In Pennsylvania, restaurants and hotels can serve alcohol on Sundays only during the hours of 11:00 AM and 2:00 AM the following Monday (if they buy a special Sunday-boozing permit [such permit allows for 9:00 AM sales if the restaurant also offers food at 9:00 AM -- because seriously, Sunday brunch without booze is just late breakfast]).  47 Pa. Stat. Ann. Section 4-406(a)(3).  Except for on St. Patrick's Day, of course.  "[W]henever Saint Patrick's Day falls on a Sunday, every hotel or restaurant liquor licensee, their servants, agents or employes may sell liquor and malt or brewed beverages on any such day after seven o'clock antemeridian and until two o' clock antemeridian of the following day."  47 Pa. Stat. Ann. Section 4-406(a)(6.1) (emphasis added).  Pennsylvania may have the nation's dumbest liquor laws (I'm a Pennsylvanian - I would know), but at least they provide for St. Patrick's Day morning drinking.  The only other day to get this special treatment?  New Year's Eve.

In Louisiana, if you get injured during a St. Patrick's Day parade and want to sue the organizer, tough luck.  "Notwithstanding any other law to the contrary, no person shall have a cause of action against any organization which presents St. Patrick's Day parades or other street parades connected with any ethnic celebration."  La. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 9:2796.1.  Does anyone else find it odd that this law applies to all ethnic parades, but St. Patrick's Day is the only one that gets an explicit shout out?  I've got my eye on you, Louisiana...

In Rhode Island, a woman was convicted of disorderly conduct for shouting obscenities during a St. Patrick's Day celebration (what is this, Communist Russia?).  But in State v. Tavarozzi, 446 A.2d 1048 (R.I. 1982), the Rhode Island Supreme Court came to the rescue, overturning her conviction on the grounds that the disorderly conduct statute applies to "noise," and cannot constitutionally apply to speech.  Count one for liberty.  It may be drunken liberty, but liberty nonetheless.

In Minnesota, a man was fired for habitually giving short notice for his absences from work.  He contended that he was fired because of his disability - alcoholism.  His employer claimed no knowledge of his alcoholism.  His evidence to demonstrate that his employer actually did have knowledge?  The fact that he called out at 2:00 AM on St. Patrick's Day.  The U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota wasn't buying it, and it granted Defendant's motion for summary disposition.  Larson v. Koch Refining Co., 920 F.Supp. 1000 (D. Minn. 1996). 

In Massachusetts in the mid-1990's, litigation arose from the exclusion of the Irish-American Gay, Lesbian & Bisexual Group of Boston from Boston's St. Patrick's Day Parade, organized by the South Boston Allied War Veterans Council.  This issue deserves far more than the crass treatment I have been giving these laws and decisions heretofore, so for a more nuanced discussion, see two competing analyses of the litigation in the following articles: Gretchen Van Ness, Parades and Prejudice: The Incredible True Story of Boston's St. Patrick's Day Parade and the United States Supreme Court, 30 New Eng. L. Rev. 625 (1996); Dwight G. Duncan, Parading the First Amendment Through the Streets of South Boston, 30 New Eng. L. Rev. 663 (1996).

Have a safe and happy St. Patrick's Day, everyone!  And remember, just because you can shout obscenities on St. Patrick's Day doesn't mean you should.

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