Wednesday, August 5, 2009

South Carolina magistrate finds constitutional right for 18 year old drinking age

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?

5 comments:

thbeer said...

"How come no one else is admitting this?" The answer to this question is that we need to recognize the strength of the New Drys. MADD started out as a anti-drunk driving group. It was hijacked by the New Drys when they realized it would be an excellent vehicle to push their platform. We need to have people recognize that alcohol can be consumed socially and not automatically harm anyone. Those that do not believe this can happen will oppose any change in alcohol laws. Kudos to Obama for showing that responsible beer drinking has a place and shame on those who see otherwise. The New Drys strength can only be countered by education and a little political courage. The responsible alcohol message still fights the unfortunate experiences of the past. It will be tough to change some perceptions.

Anonymous said...

Unless the law has changed, people under 21 in Wisconsin can drink as long as their (over 21) parents or spouses give it to them. This hasn't prevented Wisconsin from getting their highway funding.

Anonymous said...

I have too much time on my hands:

"Under the NMDA law, “purchase” means “to acquire by the payment of money or other consideration.” Although some states also prohibit the “attempt to purchase” and the “selling,
giving or serving” of alcoholic beverages to underage individuals, these prohibitions are not required under the federal law. “Public possession” is defined as the possession of a beverage
containing 0.5% or more of alcohol by volume “for any reason, including consumption on any street or highway or in any public place or in any place open to the public (including a club which is de facto open to the public).”

From: http://www.legis.state.wi.us/lrb/pubs/wb/95wb3.pdf

Seems there is no problem for SC if under 21's can't buy and can only drink at home.

sam k said...

I've always had a problem with PA's approach. You can serve alcohol (tend bar)in a licensed establishment at age 18. You can own the building that houses a licensed establishment at age 18. You can OWN THE LICENSE to serve alcohol at age 18. But you cannot have a drink in said establishment.

We can only trust you so far.

Such BS!

Lew Bryson said...

Of all the "you can do this at 18, but not drink" examples I know of, owning the bar license is the most jaw-dropping. Unbelievable.