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North Dakota’s Blue Laws


Blue laws are state or local laws that prohibit commercial activity on Sundays. It is difficult to trace the origin of the term. In his 1781 book A General History of Connecticut, The Reverend Samuel Peters described what he called “blue laws.” Peters stated that early decrees restricting Sunday sales were called “blue laws” by the colonists, but he did not explain why. Some people thought the name originated because the laws were printed on blue paper, but there is no evidence to back up that claim. In fact, there is no evidence of the term being used prior to Peters’ book, and it is possible he made it up himself. However the name came about, the regulations are still called blue laws today.

On this date in 1914, the Fargo Forum and Daily Republican reported a controversy in Hankinson relating to blue laws. The previous week, a Hankinson merchant was tried for failing to observe the Sunday closing laws. The jury returned a verdict of not guilty. Merchants who liked the blue laws decided to make a point. On Sunday, May 31 virtually every business in Hankinson was closed. It was usual for bars and liquor stores to be closed on Sundays. But even the ice cream parlor and candy store were closed. Drivers were unable to buy gas for their cars. Housewives who had put off shopping on Saturday were surprised to find they could not purchase groceries on Sunday. It was unclear if the merchants intended to close again the following Sunday.

North Dakota instituted blue laws upon statehood. They were loosened slightly in 1966, after a blizzard on a Saturday left people needing goods and services on Sunday. In 1981, state legislator Charles Reiten referred to a proposal to repeal blue laws as “the final nail in the coffin of rural North Dakota.” He said if stores were open on Sunday, people would leave rural areas and move to cities. While the effort failed that year, the laws were loosened in 1991, but there are still some restrictions. Most stores can’t do business before noon, and some businesses, including car dealerships, are not allowed to open on Sundays at all. In 2013, the House of Representatives voted down two attempts to relax the state’s blue laws even more.

Dakota Datebook written by Carole Butcher


“Sunday Lid on Tight at Hankinson.” Fargo Forum and Daily Republican. 1 June, 1914.

“ND House Votes Down Change to Blue Laws.” News Dakota. "http://www.newsdakota.com/2013/02/07/nd-house-votes-down-change-to-blue-laws/" http://www.newsdakota.com/2013/02/07/nd-house-votes-down-change-to-blue-laws/ Accessed 28 April, 2015.

“North Dakota Blue Law/Sunday Opening Law.” Bismarck Café. ://www.bismarckcafe.com/blogs/wiki/north-dakota-blue-law-sunday-opening-law
Accessed 28 April, 2015.

“Blue laws: North Dakota spent decades waging war over right to shop on Sunday.” InForum. "http://www.inforum.com/content/blue-laws-north-dakota-spent-decades-waging-war-over-right-shop-sunday" http://www.inforum.com/content/blue-laws-north-dakota-spent-decades-waging-war-over-right-shop-sunday Accessed 28 April, 2015.