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  $        ** Congressional                                              ______
               Research Service

The Eighteenth Amendment and National

Prohibition, Part 4: Early Prohibition Laws

June  26,  2023

This Legal Sidebar post is the fourth in a seven-part series that discusses the Eighteenth Amendment to
the Constitution. Prior to its repeal, the Eighteenth Amendment prohibited the manufacture, sale, or
transportation of intoxicating liquors for beverage purposes within the United States. Section 2 of the
Amendment  granted Congress and the state legislatures concurrent power to enforce nationwide
Prohibition by enacting appropriate legislation. The Eighteenth Amendment was partly a response to the
Supreme Court's pre-Prohibition Era Commerce Clause jurisprudence, which limited the federal and state
governments' power over the liquor traffic. As such, the Eighteenth Amendment's history provides insight
into the judicial evolution of the Commerce Clause, which operates as both a positive grant of legislative
power to Congress and a limit on state authority to regulate commerce. Additional information on this
topic will be published in the Constitution Annotated: Analysis and Interpretation of the U.S.

Early  Federal and State Prohibition Laws

Before the Civil War, several states enacted laws that restricted or banned the manufacture and sale of
alcoholic beverages statewide. However, by the war's end, most of these states had repealed or weakened
their prohibition laws. In the late 1800s, a resurgent temperance movement prompted the enactment of
new statewide bans or restrictions on the liquor traffic. Producers and sellers of alcoholic beverages
challenged some of these state prohibition laws in federal court, contending that they violated various
provisions of the Constitution, including the Commerce Clause.
In evaluating constitutional challenges to late 19th century state prohibition laws, the Supreme Court
confirmed the states' power to prohibit the intrastate manufacture and sale of alcoholic beverages.
However, the Court held that the Commerce Clause prevented the states from banning the importation or
initial sale of out-of-state beverages that remained in their original packages. The Court decided that,
absent contrary federal law, such state bans impermissibly burdened interstate commerce.
Responding to concerns that the Supreme Court's decisions would prevent dry states from enforcing
their prohibition laws fully, Congress enacted various statutes that specifically subjected imported
alcoholic beverages to state regulation. For instance, the Webb-Kenyon Act of 1913 effectively
authorized the states to restrict the direct shipment of imported alcoholic beverages to consumers for
                                                                Congressional Research Service

CRS Legal Sidebar
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Committees of Congress

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