New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s controversial plan to keep large sugary drinks out of restaurants and other eateries was rejected by a state appeals court on Tuesday, which said he had overstepped his authority in trying to impose the ban.
The law, which would have prohibited those businesses from selling sodas and other sugary beverages larger than 16 ounces (473 ml), “violated the state principle of separation of powers,” the First Department of the state Supreme Court’s Appellate Division said.
The decision, upholding a lower court ruling in March that struck down the law, dealt a blow to Bloomberg’s attempt to advance the pioneering regulation as a way to combat obesity. Beverage makers and business groups, however, challenged it in court, arguing that the mayoral-appointed health board had gone too far when it approved the law.
A unanimous four-judge panel at the appeals court agreed, finding that the board had stepped beyond its power to regulate public health and usurped the policy-making role of the legislature.
In particular, the court focused on the law’s loopholes, which exempted businesses not under the auspices of the city’s health department and left certain drinks, such as milk-based beverages, unaffected.
As a result, grocery and convenience stores – such as 7 Eleven and its 64-ounce Big Gulp – were protected from the ban’s reach, even as restaurants, sandwich shops and movie theaters were not. Meanwhile, milkshakes and high-calorie coffee drinks like Starbucks’ Frappucinos would have remained unfettered.
“The exceptions did not … reflect the agency’s charge to protect public health but instead reflected the agency’s own policy decisions regarding balancing the relative importance of protecting public health with ensuring the economic viability of certain industries,” Justice Dianne Renwick wrote for the court.
Bloomberg will, of course, appeal this ruling. And I imagine that he will try to find other ways to officiously meddle in the lives of ordinary citizens. But it is always nice to see officious meddling slapped down. And we have seen it with the reaction of the New York state court system to the soda ban.