South Dakota v. Dole

PETITIONER: South Dakota
RESPONDENT: Dole
LOCATION: South Dakota Legislature

DOCKET NO.: 86-260
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1986-1987)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit

CITATION: 483 US 203 (1987)
ARGUED: Apr 28, 1987
DECIDED: Jun 23, 1987

ADVOCATES:
Louis R. Cohen - Argued the cause for the respondent
Louis R. Cohen - for respondent
Roger A. Tellinghuisen - Argued the cause for the petitioner

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.

Question

Did Congress exceed its spending powers, or violate the Twenty-first Amendment, by passing legislation conditioning the award of federal highway funds on the states' adoption of a uniform minimum drinking age?

Media for South Dakota v. Dole

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - April 28, 1987 in South Dakota v. Dole

William H. Rehnquist:

We will hear arguments next in South Dakota against Elizabeth H. Dole, Secretary, United States Department of Transportation.

Mr. Tellinghuisen, you may proceed whenever you are ready.

Roger A. Tellinghuisen:

Mr. Chief Justice, and may it please the Court, the issue in this case is whether or not Congress may condition the receipt of highway funds upon a state having in effect the 21-year-old drinking age.

In 1984 Congress enacted 23 USC Section 158.

Section 158 of that Act conditions a receipt of highway funds upon a state having in effect a 21-year-old drinking age for all alcoholic beverages.

The Act prohibits or mandates that the Secretary of Transportation shall not distribute 5 percent of a state's highway funds if it is not in compliance for Fiscal Year 1987, and it further mandates that the Secretary will withhold 10 percent of those funds for each and every year thereafter that the state has failed to comply.

South Dakota, like every other state in the nation, is a recipient of Federal highway funds under the programs referred to in Section 158.

Sandra Day O'Connor:

General Tellinghuisen, would you explain whether you think this case might be moot now?

South Dakota has changed the law, as I understand it.

Roger A. Tellinghuisen:

That's correct, Your Honor.

What I would point out to the Court is that in the last legislative session, recognizing that South Dakota, not unlike any other state in the Union, is dependent upon these funds, adopted a 21-year-old drinking age that will not go into effect until April 1st of 1988.

Sandra Day O'Connor:

So it still has a year or so to run, a year to run?

Roger A. Tellinghuisen:

That's correct.

Sandra Day O'Connor:

Under the old system.

Roger A. Tellinghuisen:

Yes.

Right now South Dakota still permits 19 and 20-year-olds to consume low point beer.

Sandra Day O'Connor:

And there are Federal funds at issue, so it is saved from mootness.

Roger A. Tellinghuisen:

That's correct, Your Honor.

Harry A. Blackmun:

Then am I not correct the statute doesn't go into effect at all if you prevail here?

Roger A. Tellinghuisen:

That's correct.

The legislature in enacting the law that it passed this legislative session specifically provided within the statute itself that the legislation would repeal itself upon either a favorable decision from this Court or upon Congressional action repealing the mandatory withholding provisions of Section 158.

Harry A. Blackmun:

We know how to do things out in the upper midwest.

Roger A. Tellinghuisen:

That's correct.

For the past 48 years South Dakota has allowed persons younger than age 21 to consume low point beer, ever since South Dakota has adopted an approach that not only recognizes the social concerns over alcohol but has gradually introduced its young people to alcoholic beverages.

Twice since 1939 we have raised our minimum drinking age for low point beer from 18 to 19, and since the repeal of state prohibition in 1934 we have required all persons to be at least 21 years old before they would be allowed to consume alcoholic beverages other than low point beer.

South Dakota has likewise enacted and strictly enforced drinking driver statutes, and over the course of the last few years through the strict enforcement of those statutes we have effectuated a 30 percent reduction in the number of drinking-related fatalities on our highways.

In September of 1984 we filed a complaint in District Court, seeking a declaration that Section 158 was unconstitutional and further requesting an injunction prohibiting the Secretary of Transportation from enforcing the provisions of that statute.

The District Court dismissed and the Court of Appeals affirmed on the basis that South Dakota's complaint failed to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.

Just by procedural... or just by a little bit of history, as this Court is aware, in 1933 this nation adopted the Twenty-First Amendment, thereby repealing 16 years of national prohibition and reserving to the states the power of choice as to whether or not to allow the importation of alcoholic beverages within their own states.

This Court has also recognized that a state has the absolute power to prohibit totally the sale of alcohol within its own borders pursuant to the Twenty-First Amendment, and this Court has equally recognized that a state has broad power under the Twenty-First Amendment to regulate the times, places, and circumstances under which alcohol may be sold.