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South Dakota v. Dole


South Dakota v. Dole

South Dakota v. Dole
Argued April 28, 1987
Decided June 23, 1987
Full case name South Dakota v. Dole, Secretary of Transportation
Citations 483 U.S. 203 (more)
Congress may attach reasonable conditions to funds disbursed to the states without running afoul of the Tenth Amendment.
Court membership
Case opinions
Majority Rehnquist, joined by White, Marshall, Blackmun, Powell, Stevens, Scalia
Dissent Brennan
Dissent O'Connor
Laws applied
U.S. Const. Art. 1, Sect. 8, U.S. Const. amend. XXI

South Dakota v. Dole, 483 U.S. 203 (1987), was a case in which the United States Supreme Court considered the limitations the Constitution places on the authority of the United States Congress when it uses its authority to influence the individual states in areas of authority normally reserved to the states. It upheld the constitutionality of a federal statute that withheld federal funds from states whose legal drinking age did not conform to federal policy.


In 1984, the United States Congress passed the National Minimum Drinking Age Act, which withheld 5% [1] of federal highway funding from states that did not maintain a minimum legal drinking age of 21. South Dakota, which allowed 19-year-olds to purchase beer containing up to 3.2% alcohol, challenged the law, naming Secretary of Transportation Elizabeth Dole as the defendant.

Decision of the Court

The Supreme Court held, 7–2, that the statute represented a valid use of Congressional authority under the spending clause, and that the statute did not infringe upon the rights of the states. The Court established a five point rule for considering the constitutionality of expenditure cuts of this type, noting that:

  1. The spending must promote "the general welfare";
  2. The condition must be unambiguous;
  3. The condition should relate "to the federal interest in particular national projects or programs";
  4. The condition imposed on the States must not in itself be unconstitutional; and
  5. The condition must not be coercive.

Writing for the majority, Chief Justice William Rehnquist noted that the National Minimum Drinking Age Act clearly met the first three restrictions, leaving only the latter two restrictions worthy of consideration. Rehnquist wrote that the Congress did not violate the Tenth Amendment because it merely exercised its right to control its spending. Rehnquist wrote that the Congress did not coerce the states because it only cut a small percentage of federal funding, thus applying pressure, but not irresistible pressure. 5


Justices O'Connor and Brennan each filed dissents. O'Connor agreed that Congress may attach conditions on the receipt of federal funds, and that the Twenty-First Amendment gives states authority over laws relating to the consumption of alcohol. But O'Connor wrote that the attachment of condition on the states must be "reasonably related to the expenditure of funds." O'Connor disagreed with the Court's finding that withholding federal highway funds was reasonably related to deterring drunken driving and drinking by minors and young adults. She argued that the condition was both over and under-inclusive: it prevented teenagers from drinking when they are not going to drive on federal and federally funded highways, and it did not attempt to remedy the overall problem of drunken driving on federal and federally funded highways. She held the relation between the condition and spending too attenuated: "establishment of a minimum drinking age of 21 is not sufficiently related to interstate highway construction to justify so conditioning funds appropriated for that purpose."

See also


  1. ^ Title 23 of the United States Code, Highways. (PDF file, see Section 158)

External links

  • Text of South Dakota v. Dole, 483 U.S. 203 (1987) is available from:  Findlaw  Justia  UMKC Law School 
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