New Jersey BYOB Law Ruled Unconstitutional
Restaurants who do not own a liquor license can rejoice. United States District Court Judge Joseph Rodriguez has issued a ruling that New Jersey’s Bring Your Own Beer (BYOB) law, under N.J.S.A. 2C:33-27(a)(2) is unconstitutional. What was previously treated as a disorderly persons offense, has now been struck down as an unconstitutional restriction on First Amendment rights. Siding with a New Jersey strip club, Judge Rodriguez called it unconstitutional Monday for the Garden State to forbid restaurant or bars from advertising that they let patrons bring their own beer.
According to Judge Rodriguez’s ruling, “[a]llowing BYOB advertising would concern a lawful activity and not be misleading . . . [t]he state has neither asserted a substantial interest in regulating the speech at issue, nor shown that the regulation directly advances the governmental interest asserted, and is not more extensive than necessary to serve that interest.” Judge Rodriguez also stated that “New Jersey’s statutory ban on BYOB advertising places a content-based restriction on speech that fails strict scrutiny because it is not supported by a compelling government interest. . . [w]hile the state may, and does, regulate conduct regarding alcoholic beverages, it has not shown that regulating the speech concerning that conduct furthers a governmental interest sufficient to override the constitutional rights at stake in this case.” In his ruling, Rodriguez ordered a proposed permanent injunction to remove the language of the statue that says a bars cannot advertise its BYOB feature outside or inside the premises.
For those of us in the alcoholic beverage industry, this ruling was a foregone conclusion as the argument of “temperance” as a government interest to BYOB advertising restrictions has been struck down in several other states. The entity that brought this action to the federal court was GJJM Enterprises, LLC, which operated under the name “Stiletto”, which was a strip club near the Atlantic City boardwalk. Judge Rodriguez’s ruling was merely a formality as he had previously issued an injunction against Atlantic City and the State of New Jersey back in December of 2017, whereby they (A.C. and the State) would be prevented from enforcing the BYOB advertising laws.
Going forward, it appears as though bars and restaurants, should they choose to, may advertise that patrons can bring their own outside alcoholic beverages. While patrons and consumers could always enjoy the benefits of a BYOB (assuming the bar/restaurant allowed it), now the restaurant or bar can advertise this behavior. We will most likely see restaurants without liquor licenses and “juice bars” take advantage of this ruling.