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Twenty-first Amendment to the United States Constitution facts for kids

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Validated on December 5, 1933, the Twenty-first Amendment (Amendment XXI) to the United States Constitution canceled the Eighteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution and ended the Prohibition Era in the United States. It is the only Amendment to repeal another amendment. It is also the only Amendment to have been ratified by state ratifying conventions rather than by state legislatures.


Section 1.
The eighteenth article of amendment to the Constitution of the United States is hereby repealed.

Section 2.
The transportation or importation into any State, Territory, or possession of the United States for delivery or use therein of intoxicating liquors, in violation of the laws thereof, is hereby prohibited.

Section 3.
This article shall be inoperative unless it shall have been ratified as an amendment to the Constitution by conventions in the several States, as provided in the Constitution, within seven years from the date of the submission hereof to the States by the Congress.


The Eighteenth Amendment to the Constitution had started a period in the US known as Prohibition. During this time the manufacture, distribution, and sale of alcoholic beverages was illegal. Passage of the Eighteenth Amendment in 1919 was the chief goal of the temperance movement. but it soon proved highly unpopular. Crime had soared under Prohibition as gangsters, such as Chicago's Al Capone, became rich from a very profitable black market for alcohol. The federal government was unable to enforce the Volstead Act. In 1932, wealthy industrialist John D. Rockefeller, Jr. stated in a letter:

When Prohibition was introduced, I hoped that it would be widely supported by public opinion and the day would soon come when the evil effects of alcohol would be recognized. I have slowly and reluctantly come to believe that this has not been the result. Instead, drinking has generally increased; the speakeasy has replaced the saloon; a vast army of lawbreakers has appeared; many of our best citizens have openly ignored Prohibition; respect for the law has been greatly lessened; and crime has increased to a level never seen before.

As more and more Americans opposed the Eighteenth Amendment, a political movement grew for its repeal. However, repeal was complicated by grassroots politics. Although the U.S. Constitution provides two methods for ratifying constitutional amendments, only one method had been used up until that time. This was ratification by the state legislatures of three-fourths of the states. However, the wisdom of the day was that the lawmakers of many states were either obligated to or simply afraid of the temperance lobby. For that reason, when Congress formally proposed the repeal of Prohibition on February 20, 1933, it chose the other ratification method established by Article V. That is by state conventions.


State and local control

The second section bans the importation of alcohol in violation of state or territorial law. This has been interpreted to give states essentially absolute control over alcoholic beverages. Many U.S. states still remained "dry" (with state prohibition of alcohol) long after its ratification. Mississippi was the last, remaining dry until 1966. Kansas continued to prohibit public bars until 1987. Many states now delegate the authority over alcohol granted to them by this Amendment to their municipalities or counties (or both), which has led to many lawsuits over First Amendment rights when local governments have tried to revoke liquor licenses.

Court rulings

Section 2 has been the source of every Supreme Court ruling directly addressing Twenty-first Amendment issues. Early rulings suggested that Section 2 enabled states to legislate with exceptionally broad constitutional powers.

In State Board of Equalization v. Young's Market Co., (1936), the Supreme Court held that a state could require a license fee for importing beer from other states and also for manufacturing beer within the state. The court recognized that "Prior to the Twenty-first Amendment it would obviously have been unconstitutional" for a state to require a fee for such a privilege.

In Craig v. Boren (1976), the Supreme Court addressed the issue of proposed legislation with different ages for males and females regarding alcohol consumption in Oklahoma (age 18 for females, age 21 for males). The Court overturned the motion because of a presumed violation of the Equal Protection Clause in the Fourteenth Amendment.

In South Dakota v. Dole (1987), the Supreme Court upheld the withholding of some federal highway funds to states in which the legal drinking age is less than twenty-one years of age is lawful. The Court held that the limitations on spending power in the Twenty-First Amendment did not prohibit Congress to indirectly achieve federal objectives.

In 44 Liquormart, Inc. v. Rhode Island (1996), Rhode Island passed a law that banned liquor advertising from places that did not sell liquor. The petitioners based their suit on their First Amendment right to free speech. In a unanimous decision the Court held that states cannot use the Twenty-first Amendment to abridge freedom of speech protections under the First Amendment. However, the Court acknowledged the state was empowered to regulate the sale of liquor under the Twenty-First Amendment.

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