The soft drink ban in New York City was overturned by a New York State Supreme Court justice because the new law was "arbitrary and capricious." Which means that we are as smart about the law as a New York State Supreme Court justice.
For those who are greatly concerned about the impact of soda pop in our society, you should be relieved and upset about the ruling, the same reaction — for different reason — you would have if the law was now in effect.
You could get a large soda pop at a 7-11 but not a movie theater. You can get a large soda pop at a movie theater if it was diet. This certainly qualifies as "arbitrary."
Capricious is the fancier legal word used by the judge. While the word means "given to sudden and unaccountable changes of mood or behavior," the use fits in with arbitrary in the sense that the randomness of the law doesn't effectively deal with the issue.
Political legislation is a flawed process, no matter how good the intentions of New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and advocates for reducing soda pop consumption. Even by those standards, this law had serious holes.
Bloomberg and New York City can still get the point across without being so arbitrary. If the issue is serving sizes, then you need to ban the serving sizes, whether that be diet pop, orange juice, Red Bull, or regular soda pop.
The fast food calorie boards didn't apply to every New York City restaurant; the law applied to businesses with large enough sales (chains) and not to mom-and-pop places. In other words, you could target Big Gulp sizes but let a local restaurant serve a 20 oz. drink. Fair, no. Legal? Probably.
If the issue is the damage done by high-fructose corn syrup, then set a ban of any serving size of a drink featuring high-fructose corn syrup. You would see a lot of Mexican Coke, er, Coca-Cola in New York City. That law might still be too arbitrary but would be more useful.
Conformity within the law can sometimes backfire as well. Take Chicago's soft drink tax. The tax is supposed to offset the obesity issue by making soft drinks more expensive. Except the drinks with high-fructose corn syrup, which receives federal subsidies, are treated the same as drinks with sugar, which is artifically higher thanks to federal policy. This meets the requirement of equality, but punishes those who choose better options.
Law writing never should be truly easy, but some problems require more complex solutions. Removing federal subsidies from corn products would do more good in New York City than any of Bloomberg's proposals. Since that isn't happening anytime soon, Bloomberg is working with a disadvantage. Just means his quest will take longer and require more thought.
A smartly written law will have a more meaningful impact than one poorly written, and the general public will respect it more. Jon Stewart will miss having this as a target of ridicule, but even he would want a better written law to deal with the impact of obesity caused in part by huge soft drink sizes.