Meehan v. Bd. of Excise Com'rs of Jersey City

Decision Date07 August 1906
Citation64 A. 689,73 N.J.L. 382
CourtNew Jersey Supreme Court

(Syllabus by the Court.)

Certiorari by Hugh Meehan against the board of excise commissioners of Jersey City and others, to set aside a resolution of the excise board of Jersey City. Resolution sustained.

Argued June term, 1906, before FORT, REED, and TRENCHARD, JJ.

Robert S. Hudspeth, for prosecutor. George L. Record, Peter Backes, and I. F. Goldenhorn, for defendants.

FORT, J. The application in this case is to set aside a resolution of the excise board of Jersey City, brought up by the writ, directing the removal of screens from certain licensed places, in accordance with the powers conferred by the supplement to the act entitled "An Act to regulate the sale of spirituous, vinous, malt, and brewed liquors, and to repeal an act entitled 'An Act to regulate the safe of intoxicating and brewed liquors' passed March seventh, one thousand eight hundred and eighty-eight, approved March 20, 1889" approved April 13, 1906 (P. L. 1906, p. 199). The resolution is as follows: "Resolved, That from and after the adoption of this rule, the interior of the bar or business room in which liquors and other intoxicating drinks are sold and served under any license granted by this board, shall during such times as such sales are prohibited by law, be open to full view from the public street, Provided, however, this rule shall have no application to such places as are exempt from its operation under the provisions of said law."

It is not claimed that the resolution exceeds the powers conferred upon the excise board by the statute. The contention is that the statute conferring the power is unconstitutional. The power conferred is found in section 4 of the act. This section may be said to be inartistically drawn. It is quite involved. Summarized it prohibits the granting of a license to any person to sell spirituous, vinous, malt, or brewed liquors by less measure than one quart: (1) In any place where a grocery or mercantile business is carried on, excepting the keeping of a restaurant and selling tobacco and cigars; (2) In any place within 200 feet of a church edifice, schoolhouse, or armory; or, (3) In any place, except in a bar or business room upon the ground floor or basement of a building upon a public street; excepting, however, out of this third (3) class, the following licensed places: (a) An inn and tavern, or a hotel having at least 10 spare rooms and beds for the accommodation of boarders, etc. (b) A restaurant conducted upon more than one floor or story of a building where meals are regularly furnished, to the public, for compensation. (c) A picnic or recreation ground. (d) A building with a bowling alley. (e) A building entirely occupied by a regularly organized club or association.

The contention is that these exceptions result in a practical discrimination between saloon licenses and inn or hotel licenses, as well as between saloons and licensed restaurants, of the excepted class, where meals are regularly furnished. This seems to be the clear effect of the statute. It also distinguishes between saloons and picnic grounds and also between saloons with, and without, bowling alleys. The reason for this classification is not for the court to endeavor to discover or to attempt to reconcile with what may or may not be deemed the policy of the state as to granting, restricting or withholding licenses. With these questions the court has nothing to do. The Legislature, so long as it keeps within its constitutional prerogatives, is, upon such questions, supreme. If the legislation is objectionable on questions of political policy, the Legislature must be looked to to remedy it That is not within the province of the court We can only inquire as to the legislative power under the Constitution. The section further provides, that, as to all the licensed saloons or other places where liquor is allowed to be sold, except in the excepted classes as aforesaid "no spirituous, vinous, malt, brewed, or other intoxicating liquors shall be sold or served in any room, except in such bar or business room, and the clear interior view of the whole of said bar or business room * * * shall be in no way obstructed by a screen, nontransparent glass, shade, blind, door, shutter, merchandise or any other article, placed in any of said rooms." This part of the section would seem to be clear enough, and to be prohibitive of all screens, or the like, which are obstructive of a clear view of the whole interior of the room in which liquors are sold. A violation of this provision by any person or persons makes the person guilty of the offense of keeping a disorderly house. But, the section seems to go further than this, on the subject of screens, and the like, and to provide that, in addition, or as supplementary, to this general requirement of the statute: "The court, excise board, or other board or authority having power by law to grant licenses, etc., * * * shall upon the days and times when the sale of liquors or other intoxicating drinks is, by law, prohibited to be sold" (Sundays and election days) (and) "may at any or all other times, require that the entire Interior of such bar or business room * * * shall during the entire prohibited time, or may at any and all other times, as may be required by such authority, be open to full view from the public street."

It is a resolution to require this clear view from the public street on prohibited days, of all places not within the excepted classes, that we are asked to declare void, because it is claimed, that the conferring of the power upon the excise board, to pass such a resolution, is unconstitutional. Before considering this question, it might be well to state for clearness, that it would seem that the section under review makes two offenses. The one by the terms of the act itself for failure to keep a clear interior view of the whole of the bar or business room, free from any obstruction or screen, nontransparent glass, shade, blind, door, shutter or merchandise, or other article, placed in any of said rooms." The other relates to any obstruction which prevents a like clear view from the public street. It was evidently the legislative purpose to prohibit in all cases, by force of the statute itself, any obstruction of the view, by any person, of any other person within the bar or business room, serving or being served with liquor therein. The interior of the bar or business room must be so arranged as to give at all times an unobstructed view, of the whole interior, from the interior, and, when the court, excise board, or other licensing authority in any municipality shall so require the same, an unobstructed view of...

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