Conservatives celebrated a blow to the “nanny state” on Monday as a state judge stopped Mayor Michael Bloomberg (I) from banning large sugary drinks in New York City.
New York Supreme Court Justice Milton Tingling blocked the ban on large sodas less than 24 hours before it was set to take effect, calling it “fraught with arbitrary and capricious consequences.” He said it was an “administrative Leviathan” that would “eviscerate” the separation of powers in the state.
The ruling was a major victory for the beverage industry, which joined with local retailers to file the legal challenge.
The ban — a pet project of Bloomberg's — would have prohibited the sale of sugary drinks larger than 16 ounces in most settings.
Conservatives derided the ban as an example of big government in action. Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus noted that the ruling came down while he and other GOP officials were in Brooklyn for a listening session on the party’s future.
“While RNC is in Brooklyn, freedom returns to NYC!” Priebus tweeted.
Even with the large-soda ban on ice, the beverage industry remains a target in Congress and statehouses across the country.
In 2009, when some congressional Democrats floated the idea of a soda tax to help finance healthcare reform, the American Beverage Association’s federal lobbying spiked to $19 million — from less than $1 million the year before. It spent almost as much to defeat a proposed soda tax in New York state.
Sugary drinks are also under fire from the Agriculture Department, which has proposed banning schools from selling non-diet sodas.
Bloomberg was able to overcome the industry’s staunch opposition largely because of his near-total control over the city’s health board.
Many business owners saw the ban as a double standard: it was targeted primarily at restaurants and movie theaters, while grocery stores and bodegas were still able to sell larger sizes. Coffee shops also protested the ban, which would have limited large coffee drinks with added sugar.
Tingling agreed with retail and industry groups that criticized the regulations as unfair and inconsistent.
"The loopholes in this rule effectively defeat the stated purpose of the rule," Tingling wrote. "It is arbitrary and capricious because it applies to some but not all food establishments in the City, it excludes other beverages that have significantly higher concentrations of sugar sweeteners and/or calories on suspect grounds, and the loopholes inherent in the Rule ... defeat and/or serve to gut the purpose of the Rule."
Bloomberg has repeatedly defended the large-soda ban as a necessary step in fighting obesity. He argued that customers who wanted more than 16 ounces of soda were always free to order two, but were more likely to simply stop drinking after 16 ounces.
“We've just got to do something,” Bloomberg said on CBS’s “Face the Nation” this past weekend. “And all we're doing in New York is reminding you that it's not in your interest to have too many empty calories. You can have some. If you want to have 32 ounces, just buy two 16-ounce cups.”
Bloomberg’s office said it will appeal Tingling’s decision.
— This story was updated at 5:56 p.m.