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The twenty-first amendment was intended to effect a much narrower grant of authority. Specifically, the primary intent of the twenty-first amendment was to authorize the state (where it would otherwise be prohibited from doing so) to regulate directly the transportation or importation of liquor into the state, in effect, to create an exception to the normal operation of the Commerce Clause.
The State of South Dakota appealed the dismissal of its complaint challenging the constitutionality of a 1984 amendment to the Surface Transportation Assistance Act of 1982. 23 U.S.C. § 158. The challenged amendment was enacted under Congress's spending power, U.S. Const. art. I, § 8, cl. 1, and was intended to encourage states to raise their minimum drinking age to twenty-one. In the event a state failed to raise its minimum drinking age to 21, appellee Secretary of Transportation was permitted to withhold a percentage of a state's federal highway funds. The state argued that congress, by enacting the law, impermissibly impaired its exclusive and constitutionally protected right to regulate the consumption of alcoholic beverages.
Was the 1984 amendment to the Surface Transportation Assistance Act of 1982. 23 U.S.C. § 158 constitutional?
The court stated that congress could have reasonably concluded that the problem of young adults drinking and driving was not a purely local or intrastate concern but rather is a concern of interstate and national proportions. The court held that § 158 fell within the scope of congress's power under the spending clause. Contrary to the state's argument, the court stated that while the twenty-first amendment did not increase congress's authority to legislate with respect to liquor, the amendment did not limit or withdraw congress's ability to exercise authority under its existing delegated powers, including the spending power.