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Legal Brief of South Dakota v. Dole (1987) by: David A.W. Hittle

(1)  South Dakota v. Dole (1987) pg. 159 vote: 7-2

483 U.S. 203; 107 S. Ct. 2793; 97 L. Ed. 2d.  171 (1987)


(2)  The Facts of the case are these: 1. South Dakota permits a person 19 years of age or older to purchase beer containing up to 3.2% alcohol. 2. In 1984 Congress enacted 23 U.S.C. Sec. 158, which directs the Secretary of Transportation to withhold a percentage of federal highway funds otherwise allocated to states “in which the purchase or public possession of any alcoholic beverage by a person who is less than twenty-one years of age is lawful. 3. The state sued seeking a declaratory judgment that Sec. 158 violates the Constitutional limitations on Congressional exercise of spending power and violates the 21st amendment to the United States Constitution.


(3)  The Main Ideas of the case are these: 1. Does Congress have the right to punish a state using highway funds, if a state refuses to obey a federal statute? 2. Does Sec. 158 violate the Constitutional limitations on Congressional spending power? 3. Does Sec. 158 violate the 21st Amendment?


(4)  In a 7-2 Decision: The Court finds that the Congress does have the right to use its spending power in order to “encourage” uniformity in the states’ drinking ages. The Court found that Congress hadn’t violated the twenty-first amendment and also that; they had the right under the spending power to encourage uniformity of the states…


(5)  Chief Justice Rehnquist Delivered the Opinion of the Court: The Court finds that under Section 2 of the 21st amendment the states have the right to impose restrictions on the sale and distribution of alcoholic beverages but does not confer on them any power to permit sales that Congress seeks to prohibit. The Court also finds that the Constitution empowers Congress to “lay and collect taxes, duties, imposts, and excises to pay debts and provide for the common defense and general welfare of the United States. Incident to this power, Congress may attach conditions on the recipient of federal money…


(6)  Justice Brennan and Justice O`Connor dissent: They find that the Court upheld the National Minimum Drinking Age Amendment, as a valid exercise of spending power conferred by Article 1, Sec. 8. They opined that Sec. 158 is not a condition on spending reasonably related to the expenditure of federal funds and cannot be justified on that ground. Rather, it is an attempt to regulate the sale of Liquor, an attempt that lies outside Congressional power to regulate commerce because it falls within the ambit of Sec. 2 of the 21st Amendment.


(7)  This opinion of the Court allowed Congress to pressure states using the power of the purse to do things in accordance with Congressional Statutes, this case as well as the speed limiting cases both pressure the states with federal dollars. This case also supported and allowed the Congress to enact the National Minimum Drinking Age Amendment as opined by the dissenting Justices.