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Many people believe we have too many laws.  Not many lawyers believe this, but of course “many lawyers” is not the same thing as “many people”.  Indeed, some people believe many lawyers are not people at all, except perhaps on a generous understanding of the concept.

Leaving that view to one side, the “silly laws of the world” story is a perennial of the amusing news column.  We’ve all heard of the United Kingdom laws supposedly making it legal to urinate in the street, so long as one does so into a policeman’s hat (untrue – Public Order Act 1986), or illegal to operate a cow or steam engine while drunk (true – Licensing Act 1872).  In Mills v Cooper [1967] 2 QB 459 (CA) it was alleged that the defendant “being a gipsy did without lawful authority or excuse camp on a highway”, leading to an extended perambulation by Diplock LJ on the meaning of “gipsy” for the purposes of the Highways Act.

A recent topic of Chambers discussion was a law said to prohibit drinking wine from a teacup.  This item was naturally of particular interest to one individual named for the patron saint of brewers.  Further enquiries revealed the locus of this law was Topeka, Kansas, where restaurant servers were apparently forbidden from serving said beverage in said crockery.

However, even further enquiries reveal that this law is apparently no longer on the books.  The Topeka Municipal Code, which was revamped this year, now makes no mention of either wine or teacups, although it still makes it unlawful to jostle any person in a public place, haul offal along Kansas Avenue (except over the Kansas Avenue Memorial Bridge), or use a musical instrument to attract attention to any performance, show or sale.  Until recently, it was also unlawful to throw a snowball at any person, building or tree.  In Kansas as a whole, meanwhile, it seems it was formerly illegal to serve cherry pie with ice cream on a Sunday.

This leads us naturally to perhaps the most famous silly law in the United States, which legendarily made it illegal to serve apple pie in Wisconsin without a slice of cheddar cheese on the top.  Wisconsin is reputed as the largest producer of cheese in the United States, so much so that fans of the Green Bay Packers are colloquially known as “cheeseheads”.

That one turns out to be entirely apocryphal.  But it does appear to have been the inspiration for a 1999 statute which, while amending Vermont law so as to make apple pie the state pie – thus sitting proudly alongside the state bird (the hermit thrush), the state flavour (maple), the state vegetable (the Gilfeather turnip) and the state fly-fishing fly (the Governor Aiken bucktail streamer) – also mandated that when serving apple pie in Vermont, a “good faith effort” must be made to accompany it with either a glass of cold milk, a slice of cheddar cheese weighing a minimum of 1/2 ounce, or a large scoop of vanilla ice cream.

To date, no prosecutions have been reported.

by Carter Pearce