South Dakota v. Dole Case Brief

Facts of the case

In 1984, Congress enacted legislation ordering the Secretary of Transportation to withhold five percent of federal highway funds from states that did not adopt a 21-year-old minimum drinking age. South Dakota, a state that permitted persons 19 years of age to purchase alcohol, challenged the law.

Why is the case important?

Appellant alleges that the federal withholding of a small percentage of highway funds to states allowing public possession or purchase of alcohol by individuals under 21 years is unconstitutional.


May Congress withhold funds from states that do not maintain a 21 year old drinking age?


Yes. Appeals court ruling affirmed. A withholding of a small amount of funds is not a coercive measure and a proper exercise of taxing and spending power.


On certiorari, the Court held that: (1) the statute’s indirect imposition of a minimum drinking age was a valid exercise of Congress’s spending power, reasonably calculated to advance the general welfare and national concern of safe interstate travel and (2) the Twenty-First amendment was not violated as the statute did not induce petitioner to engage in unconstitutional activities.

  • Advocates: Louis R. Cohen Argued the cause for the respondent Roger A. Tellinghuisen Argued the cause for the petitioner Louis R. Cohen for respondent
  • Petitioner: South Dakota
  • Respondent: Dole
  • DECIDED BY:Rehnquist Court
  • Location: South Dakota Legislature
Citation: 483 US 203 (1987)
Argued: Apr 28, 1987
Decided: Jun 23, 1987
South Dakota v. Dole Case Brief