“Every citizen who is eighteen years of age or older, not laboring under disabilities prescribed in this Constitution or otherwise established by law, shall be deemed sui juris [of age, literally "of one's own laws"] and endowed with full legal rights and responsibilities, provided, that the General Assembly may restrict the sale of alcoholic beverages to persons until age twenty-one.” (emphasis added)
That's Article 17, Section 14, of the South Carolina constitution. Recently, citing this section, South Carolina magistrates in Richard and Aiken counties have ruled that state laws prohibiting people from 18 to 20 from drinking alcohol beverages (I hate the term "alcoholic beverages") are unconstitutional. The magistrates pointed out that the section in question specifically says that the legislature may restrict the sale of such beverages to persons between 18 and 20 years of age....it says nothing about the legislature restricting possession or consumption.
Well, well, well. This is an interesting dingus in constitutional law. The 21st Amendment to the U.S. constitution says that the states have the right to regulate alcohol; but federal law (Title 23, section 158) also punishes states that do not have a 21 LDA by taking away 10% of their federal highway money. But the South Carolina constitution section in question pre-dates that federal law. If the state abides by the letter of its constitution, do they lose federal money? Or do we finally have the case to walk up the line to revisit South Dakota vs. Dole?
These cases come at a crucial time. The Amethyst Initiative has opened the debate on the 21 LDA, 18 year old Americans are at war, defending their country, and the debate, after an initial roar of protest from the New Drys, has started to develop voices in favor of lowering the LDA. One very interesting voice is Dr. Morris Chafetz, who was on the presidential commission in the 1980s that recommended raising the drinking age to 21. Chafetz recently referred to his actions on that committee as "the single most regrettable decision" of his career.*
The debate is necessary, useful, and should not be decided by any single study, or piece of research, or group. Full debate and a real airing of the facts is needed. I don't trust most of the 'research' coming from the New Drys any more, because they've been caught lying -- and continue to lie -- too many times. I'd like to see some impartial research done.
In the meantime, it's going to be interesting to see what happens in SC. My bets are on a very fast constitutional amendment...but we'll see.
*"Legal Age 21 has not worked," Chafetz said in the piece. "To be sure, drunk driving fatalities are lower now than they were in 1982. But they are lower in all age groups. And they have declined just as much in Canada, where the age is 18 or 19, as they have in the United States." How come no one else is admitting this?