South Dakota v. Dole
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|South Dakota v. Dole|
Supreme Court of the United States
|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.|
|Majority||Rehnquist, joined by White, Marshall, Blackmun, Powell, Stevens, Scalia|
|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.
The United States Congress passed the National Minimum Drinking Age Act in 1984. It withheld 5% of federal highway funding from states that did not maintain a minimum legal drinking age of 21. It provided for the percentage withheld to rise to 5% in 1988. 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 decided 7–2 that the statute represented a valid use of Congressional authority applying. It noted that the penalty Congress imposed on the state's action need to meet five conditions:
- The spending must promote "the general welfare";
- The condition must be unambiguous;
- The condition should relate "to the federal interest in particular national projects or programs";
- The condition imposed on the States must not in itself be unconstitutional; and
- The condition must not be coercive.
Writing for the majority, Chief Justice Rehnquist noted that the first three restrictions were uncontested. This leaves the fourth restriction. South Dakota claimed that the right to regulate the legal drinking age was a power reserved to the individual states under the Tenth and Twenty-First Amendments. The Court considered whether the federal government's attempt to influence the state's determination of the drinking age constituted "coercion", which earlier Supreme Court decisions held an unconstitutional use of federal power, or an acceptable level of "pressure" on the state. The Court held that the amount of funding withheld was insufficient to represent coercion.
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 wrote, 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: "[E]stablishment of a minimum drinking age of 21 is not sufficiently related to interstate highway construction to justify so conditioning funds appropriated for that purpose."