A state judge on Monday blocked New York City from implementing controversial limits on sugary drinks, a major setback to one of Mayor Michael Bloomberg's signature health initiatives.
However, reports of the law's demise are premature.
Immediately after the ruling, the Bloomberg administration announced that it would appeal the decision. And if Bloomberg's past efforts to combat obesity are any indication, he may have a strong case.
Under Bloomberg's watch, the city has banned trans fats and mandated that chain restaurants list calorie counts on their menus. Those moves, while also controversial at the time of their enactment, were allowed to stand. Bloomberg noted that very point in a press conference following the latest ruling, saying the soft drink regulations were "consistent with the Board of Health's tradition and its mission."
"There are many, many instances where a lower court decision has gone against us and then been reversed," Bloomberg said. "If lower court rulings had always stood, Grand Central Terminal would have been knocked down 40 years ago."
In addition, the ruling stopped short of saying the city had overstepped its authority. Rather, the court said only that the rules were "arbitrary and capricious," in part because they do not apply to all businesses in the city. Some chain vendors, like 7-11, are exempt from the regulations because they're regulated by the state.
That leaves room for the city to simply tweak the regulations to make them less arbitrary — something it has done before. A court thwarted Bloomberg's original calorie display proposal because it did not apply to all chain restaurants. In response, the city rewrote the regulations to include all chains, and the court upheld them following a second legal battle.
Revising the soda ban would be tougher because of the city's lack of jurisdiction over some businesses. But the administration has previously asked the state to take similar action, and a tandem effort could potentially resolve that problem.
Even if New York City's regulations aren't implemented in this final year of Bloomberg's mayoralty, they could live on in similar laws elsewhere in the nation. Massachusetts, Hawaii, and Nebraska are weighing taxes on sugary drinks. And in Cambridge, Mass., lawmakers last year debated following New York's lead with a soda ban of their own.
For now, New Yorkers can still enjoy their Big Gulps. But the battle is just getting started, both in New York and around the country.