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U.S. Const. amend. XIV permits the states a wide scope of discretion in enacting laws which affect some groups of citizens differently than others. The constitutional safeguard is offended only if the classification rests on grounds wholly irrelevant to the achievement of the state's objective. State legislatures are presumed to have acted within their constitutional power despite the fact that, in practice, their laws result in some inequality. A statutory discrimination will not be set aside if any state of facts reasonably may be conceived to justify
Appellants, employees of a large department store on a highway in Anne Arundel County, Md., were convicted and fined in a Maryland State Court for selling on Sunday a loose-leaf binder, a can of floor wax, a stapler, staples and a toy, in violation of Md. Ann. Code, Art. 27, § 521, which generally prohibits the sale on Sunday of all merchandise except the retail sale of tobacco products, confectioneries, milk, bread, fruit, gasoline, oils, greases, drugs, medicines, newspapers and periodicals. Recent amendments now except from the prohibition the retail sale in Anne Arundel County of all foodstuffs, automobile and boating accessories, flowers, toilet goods, hospital supplies and souvenirs, and exempt entirely any retail establishment in that County which employs not more than one person other than the owner. There are many other Maryland laws which prohibit specific activities on Sundays or limit them to certain hours, places or conditions.
Did the Maryland statutes violate the "Equal Protection" Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment?
The Court affirmed petitioners' convictions, holding that the laws were secular in nature, since the State's purpose was to give its citizens a common day of rest. The Court also determined that the Equal Protection clause was not implicated since a state may discrimination against it citizens in enacting its laws where the state's objective is achieved. The Court concluded that the laws did not establish a religion within the meaning of the Establishment Clause although the day of rest happened to coincide with the religious day of a majority of its citizens.