Example: Minimum drinking age
or no federal highway funds

The United States Congress passed legislation, the National Minimum Drinking Age Act, designed to discourage states from lowering the legal drinking age in 1984. It did so by withholding 5% of federal highway funding from states that did not comply. In 1988, that amount changed to 10%. South Dakota, which had allowed 19-year-olds to purchase beer containing up to 3.2% alcohol, sued to challenge the law, naming Secretary of Transportation Elizabeth Dole as the defendant because her office was responsible for enforcing the legislation.

The Supreme Court decided that Congress applying its taxing and spending clauses was not in violation of the 21st Amendment. It is subject to four covenants:

1.The condition must be unambiguous;

2.The condition must promote "the general welfare";

3.The condition should relate "to the federal interest in particular national projects or programs"; and

4.Other constitutional provisions may provide an independent bar to the conditional grant of federal funds.

The first three restrictions, Rehnquist noted, are uncontested. This leaves the fourth restriction. The Tenth Amendment bars federal regulation of the States, and it has been suggested that the Twenty-First Amendment might prohibit federal regulation of the drinking age. Nevertheless, the Congressional condition of highway funds is merely a "pressure" on the State to comply, not a "compulsion" to do so, because the State's failure to meet the condition deprives it of only 5% of the highway funds it may obtain. Therefore, Congress has not run afoul of the Tenth or Twenty-First Amendments.


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. The attached condition on the states, O'Connor said, 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 prevents teenagers from drinking when they are not going to drive on federal and federally-funded highways, and it does not attempt to remedy the overall problem of drunken driving on federal and federally-funded highways. Therefore, the relation here between the condition and spending is 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.�

If the condition and spending are too attenuated, then they fail the court's "reasonable relation" test, falling outside the scope of Congress's power in the Constitution. Brennan, in a brief paragraph, states his agreement with O'Connor, stating that the Twenty-First Amendment "strikes the proper balance between federal and state authority".

How did the control freaks in the federal government get so much
power over every little aspect of our lives?

These powers aren't given to them by the Constitution!

How did they come by this 'claimed' authority to rule and regulate
and even criminalize everything?

Well, one way they did it was by withholding federal money unless
states complied with federal demands.

The old carrot and stick...


Government corruption How the federal government gets around the Constitution

Goodman Green
- Brasscheck

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