William & Mary Environmental Law and Policy Review


Seamus Ovitt


In America, Sunday closing laws, laws restricting what activities individuals could engage in, date back to the early colonial period; those early laws, like much of North American jurisprudence, trace their roots to the laws that existed in England at the time. Historically, however, laws restricting the behavior of individuals, specifically on Sundays, date back thousands of years; initially, their language was tied directly to that of the Old Testament. As God declared:

[s]ix days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work: But the seventh day [is] the Sabbath of the Lord thy God: [in it] thou shalt not do any work . . . For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth . . . and rested the seventh day.

For centuries, per this declaration, millions of devout Christians accepted Sunday as the Lord’s Day, a day devoted solely to rest and prayer. This special status accorded to Sunday would eventually be concretely established in the black letter law of many English-speaking, Christian nations, and later, in that of both the American Colonies and the United States.These statutes, which restricted Sunday behavior of all types, became known as “Blue Laws.”

Aside from laws restricting the sale and on-premises consumption of alcohol, one more antiquated Blue Law that has persisted well into the twenty-first century is the ban on Sunday hunting. As of January 2017, eleven East Coast states still banned or significantly restricted Sunday hunting. Although it is not entirely clear why Sunday hunting laws have persevered longer than most other Blue Laws, many have theorized that hunting restrictions have simply never been a pressing issue for state legislators or their respective legislatures.

This Note will argue that the time is finally ripe for the total repeal of Sunday hunting laws, which have in recent years finally become a pressing issue in numerous East Coast states. It will argue that Sunday hunting laws present unnecessary economic roadblocks in, and are a threat to the forest ecosystems of, the states in which they are currently operative.

In a general sense, this Note will discuss and analyze contemporary Sunday hunting laws. Part I will encompass a brief history of Blue Laws and Sunday hunting prohibitions; it will succinctly trace the evolution of these laws from their religious roots to their contemporary, secular justifications. Part II will provide an overview and analyze contemporary Sunday hunting laws, which are currently operative in eleven states, and vary drastically.Part III will include a look at the impact that hunters and hunting have on the environment. Furthermore, it will highlight the many serious environmental, ecological, and economic threats posed by deer overpopulation in the Eastern United States. Part IV will analyze past attempts to repeal Sunday hunting laws. This section will emphasize the uniform failure of constitutional challenges that litigants have brought against Sunday hunting restrictions. This section will argue that further litigation is futile. Lastly, Part V will focus on the modern debate surrounding Sunday hunting restrictions. First, it will outline in detail the arguments made by both proponents and opponents of repeal. It will argue that Sunday hunting laws should be repealed in their entirety, primarily for economic reasons, but also due to substantial environmental concerns. In conclusion, Part V will propose that there is room for compromise between hunters and nonhunters on the issue of Sunday hunting restrictions. It will point to recently passed legislation in the states of Virginia and West Virginia, and suggest that proponents of repeal—both hunters and private interest groups—should use these recent successes and legislative proposals as a blueprint for repealing Sunday restrictions in other states.