PhotoNew York City's attempt to legally limit the number of ounces in a single soda is officially dead as of yesterday, when the state Court of Appeals ruled 4-2 that the city Board of Health “exceeded the scope of its regulatory authority” when it tried to ban the sale of any sugar-sweetened drinks in cups larger than 16 ounces.

Former mayor Michael Bloomberg first proposed the ban (which its supporters claimed would help fight obesity, diabetes and similar diet-related health problems) in 2012, and the city Board of Health voted in favor of it. It would have gone into effect six months later, in 2013, except a state judge blocked it. So the city appealed to a higher court, which upheld the lower court decision.

Current mayor Bill de Blasio, who supported the proposal, said he was “extremely disappointed” by the court's decision. Dissenting judge Susan P. Read, who cast one of the two votes in favor of the ban, wrote that the court's decision to strike down the ban “misapprehends, mischaracterizes and thereby curtails the powers of the New York City Board of Health to address the public health threats of the early 21st century.”

Read compared the Board's attempt to regulate soda sizes with earlier public-health initiatives such as banning lead paint for use in homes, or regulating the public water supply.

Personal autonomy

But the court's majority opinion rejected that comparison, saying that such regulations had a more direct link to the health of the public (presumably, as opposed to the health of whichever specific individual chooses to buy more than 16 ounces of soda at once), with “minimal interference with the personal autonomy” of New Yorkers.

The Court of Appeals is the highest authority in New York State; if the city wanted to make another attempt to appeal the ban, it can only look to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Thus far the city hasn't said whether it will attempt such an appeal, but legal experts think the Supreme Court would most likely decline to hear such an appeal anyway. 

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