Kosher supermarket challenges state law restricting Sunday commercial activities


A. Issues Discussed: First Amendment (Establishment of Religion), Fourteenth Amendment 

B. Legal Question Presented:

Did a Massachusetts "blue law" that prohibited most businesses in the state from being open on Sundays violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment or the First Amendment?


A. Background:

Appellee Crown Kosher Super Market was an Orthodox Jewish supermarket located in Springfield, Massachusetts, that sold kosher meats and other kosher products to a largely Jewish clientele. The supermarket conducted approximately one-third of its weekly business on Sundays due in part to the Jewish restriction forbidding members of the Jewish faith from shopping and engaging in other commercial activities on the Sabbath (sundown on Friday to sundown on Saturday). A Massachusetts "blue law" prohibited most businesses from being open on Sundays in observance of the traditional Christian day of worship. Although the law contained numerous exceptions for certain categories of businesses, the law had been construed to prohibit the appellee from being open on Sundays.

Appellee filed a lawsuit in Federal District Court, against appellant Gallagher, the Chief of Police, to prevent the Springfield police department from enforcing the Sunday closing law.  Appellee argued that the law's exceptions were so numerous and so arbitrary that they violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, and also that the law amounted to an establishment of religion in violation of the First Amendment. The District Court agreed, and ruled on behalf of appellee.  Appellant appealed the decision to the United States Supreme Court.

B. Counsel of Record:
Opposing Side
Herbert B. Ehrmann argued the cause for appellees. With him on the brief was Samuel L. Fein. Joseph H. Elcock, Jr., Assistant Attorney General of Massachusetts, argued the cause for appellants. With him on the brief were Edward J. McCormack, Jr., Attorney General, John Warren McGarry, Assistant Attorney General, Arthur E. Sutherland and S. Thomas Martinelli.
C. The Arguments:
Opposing Side
Unavailable Unavailable
Opposing Side
Reuben Goodman and Rowland Watts filed a brief for the American Civil Liberties Union et al., as amicus curiae, urging affirmance.

Briefs of amici curiae, urging affirmance, were filed by Leo Pfeffer, Lewis H. Weinstein, Shad Polier and Samuel Lawrence Brennglass for the Synagogue Council of America et al.; Frederick F. Greenman, Arnold Forster, Paul Hartman, Theodore Leskes, Edwin J. Lukas and Sol Rabkin for the American Jewish Committee et al.; and William D. Donnelly for the General Conference of Seventh-Day Adventists.

No amici curiae briefs were filed on behalf of Appellant.


"The fact is that the irrationality of these and the many other apparently reasonable distinctions has not been shown.  'A classification having some reasonable basis does not offend against [the equal protection] clause merely because it is not made with mathematical nicety or because in practice it results in some inequality.'  Lindsley v. Natural Carbonic Gas Co... Thus, we hold that the Massachusetts Sunday Laws do not violate equal protection of the laws...

We agree with the court below that, like the Sunday laws of other States, the Massachusetts statutes have an unmistakably religious origin. However, when we examine the statutes now before the Court, we find that, for the most part, they have been divorced from the religious orientation of their predecessors...

Admittedly, the statutes still contain references to the Lord's Day and some provisions speak of weekdays as being secular days. It would seem that the objectionable language is merely a relic... But because the State wishes to protect those who do worship on Sunday does not mean that the State means to impose religious worship on all. Although many of the more recently allowed Sunday activities may not commence prior to 1 p. m., others may be undertaken at any time during the day...

Furthermore, the long list of exemptions that have been recently granted evidences that the present scheme is one to provide an atmosphere of recreation rather than religion. The court below pointed out that, since 1858, the statutes have been amended more than seventy times. It would not seem that the Sunday sales of tobacco, soda water, fruit, et cetera, are in aid of religion. It would seem that the operation of amusement parks and beach resorts is in aid of recreation.

The relevant factors having been most carefully considered, we do not find that the present statutes' purpose or effect is religious. Although the three-judge court found that Massachusetts had no legitimate secular interest in maintaining Sunday closing, we have held differently in McGowan v. Maryland. And, for the reasons stated in that case, we reject appellees' request to hold these statutes invalid on the ground that the State may accomplish its secular purpose by alternative means that would not even remotely or incidentally aid religion. Accordingly, the decision below is reversed."

Held: The judgment of the District Court is reversed.

Justice Vote: 3 Pro vs. 6 Con
  • Warren, E. Con (Wrote majority opinion)
  • Black, H. Con (Joined majority opinion)
  • Clark, C. Con (Joined majority opinion)
  • Whittaker, C. Con (Joined majority opinion)
  • Frankfurter, F. Con (Wrote concurring opinion)
  • Harlan, J. Con (Joined concurring opinion)
  • Douglas, W. Pro (Wrote dissenting opinion)
  • Brennan, W. Pro (Wrote dissenting opinion)
  • Stewart, P. Pro (Joined Brennan's dissenting opinion)

The ACLU filed as amicus urging affirmance; the US Supreme Court reversed the ruling of the District Court in a 6-3 vote, giving the ACLU an apparent loss.