McGowan v. Maryland

LOCATION: Trailways Bus Terminal

DECIDED BY: Warren Court (1958-1962)

CITATION: 366 US 420 (1961)
ARGUED: Dec 08, 1960
DECIDED: May 29, 1961

Facts of the case

Several employes of a discount department store sold a few items, such as floor wax and loose-leaf notebooks, to customers on a Sunday. By doing so, they violated Maryland's blue laws which only allow certain items, such as drugs, tobacco, newspapers and some foodstuffs, to be sold on Sundays.


Do Maryland's blue laws violate the Free Exercise and Religious Establishment clauses of the First Amendment?

Media for McGowan v. Maryland

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - December 08, 1960 (Part 2) in McGowan v. Maryland

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - December 08, 1960 (Part 1) in McGowan v. Maryland

Earl Warren:

Number 8, Margaret M. McGowan et al., Appellants, versus Maryland.

Mr. Silbert.

Harry Silbert:

May it please the Court, Mr. Chief Justice, Justices.

I would like to correct a mistake I think which occurred unintentionally.

Mr. Burger I believe stated that the next case was a case of the Two Guys from Harrison.

I represent seven defendants -- seven appellants who sustained a criminal conviction in Anne Arundel County, State of Maryland.

Incidentally, these appellants work for the Two Guys from Harrison.

So that actually I think he had reference to the case that is following me rather than this particular case.

My clients work for the Two Guys from Harrison which is a large retail establishment in the County of Maryland.

Within the confines of this establishment are so many, many things as has been testified almost everything under the sun.On a Sunday, the police arrested these people and they were charged with selling, two of them were convicted of -- convicted for selling a three-ring loose-leaf notebook, four of them were convicted for selling a stapler and staplers, one was convicted of selling a toy submarine.

These convictions were sustained by our Appellate Court of Maryland.

I think -- we claim that these convictions are not proper and that in light of the First and Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution should not be sustained and should be overthrown in this Court hearing.

In order to more clearly familiarize ourselves with the Sunday Blue Laws, I think it would be well to examine the Sunday Blue Laws as they apply to the State of Maryland.

The first law was enacted in 1723 and remains substantially in its same form today.

It's known as Article -- Section 492 of Article 27 which is the criminal article affecting the criminal laws of Maryland.

It is entitled the "Sabbath Breaking".

From this Article 492 and I refer to our jurisdictional statement which outlines the Section 492.

It says that no person whatsoever shall work or do any bodily labor on the Lord's Day, commonly called Sunday, and no person having children or servants shall command, or wittingly or willingly suffer any of them to do any manner of work or labor on the Lord's Day except works of necessity and charity always accepted, nor shall suffer or permit any children or servants to profane the Lord's Day by gaming, fishing, fowling, hunting or unlawfully pastime or unlawful pastime or recreation, and every person transgressing this Section and being hereof convicted before a justice of the peace shall forfeit $5, to be applied to the use of the county.

Thereafter, a series of exceptions were carved up to this general Blue Law.

Section 521, which was enacted almost the same time as this Section and sustained a number of exceptions thereto, permit on a statewide basis the sale of certain food commodity such as soft drinks, candies, confections, milks and ice, ice cream and ices, certain tobaccos, certain motor fuels and greases, and certain periodicals to be sold on Sunday.

This has statewide effect.Section 522, which follows the one just read, prevents on the Sabbath day, as it says, commonly called Sunday, the operations of any dancing saloon, opera house, tenpin alley, barber saloon, or bail alley -- ball alley within the -- within the State.

Thereafter, a section on this 50 -- 509 which came after 521 and 522 and from that is the problem that we are facing the Court today.

The State of Maryland contends that my clients were convicted under the general Section of 521, which is the prohibition of the sale of items which we admit are not included within the exceptions of 521.However, 509 is a Section which applies in effect only to Anne Arundel County and it exempts from the operation of Sections 5 -- 4 -- 492, 521 and 522.

It says, "It shall be lawful to operate and work or to be employed in the occupations of operating any bathing beach, bathhouse, amusement park, dancing saloon, the selling or sales of any novelties, souvenirs, cut -- accessories or other merchandise essential to or customarily sold or incidental to the operation of the aforesaid businesses and occupations at retail."

It also gives them the right to rent beach chairs and beach umbrellas but that is not incidental to this case.

So from this overall --

Potter Stewart:

I mean is it considered that these exceptions apply only to Anne Arundel County?

Harry Silbert:

I believe so, 509 is only applicable by the title to Anne Arundel County.

It says, "Beaches, amusement parks, picnic groves in Anne Arundel County."

The Code of Maryland specifically says this, "will only apply to Anne Arundel County."