An introduction to Constitutional Law 100 Supreme Court cases everyone should know

Randy E. Barnett & Josh Blackman

In 1984, Congress enacted a law to encourage states to raise their drinking age. That statute allowed Elizabeth Dole, the Secretary of Transportation, to withhold a percentage of federal highway funds from states with a drinking age lower than twenty-one. South Dakota, which allowed nineteen-year-olds to purchase light beer, sued the Secretary. In Chapters 17 and 18 we will study New York v. United States (1992) and Printz v. United States (1997). These cases held that Congress lacks the power to direct, or commandeer, states to take certain actions. Because Congress could not force the state legislature to raise its drinking age, South Dakota argued that Congress could not accomplish that same objective by taking away federal funds.

The Supreme Court rejected this argument. Chief Justice Rehnquist wrote the majority opinion.

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