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South Dakota v. Dole

Significance, Legal Drinking Age, A Four-part Test, Dissent: 158 Attempts To Regulate


State of South Dakota


Elizabeth Dole, U.S. Secretary of Transportation

Petitioner's Claim

That a law withholding federal highway funds from states which did not adopt a minimum drinking age of 21 years was in violation of the Twenty-first Amendment to the Constitution, and of constitutional limits on the spending power of Congress.

Chief Lawyer for Petitioner

Roger A. Tellinghuisen, Attorney General of South Dakota

Chief Lawyer for Respondent

Cohen, U.S. Deputy Solicitor General

Justices for the Court

Harry A. Blackmun, Thurgood Marshall, Lewis F. Powell, Jr., William H. Rehnquist (writing for the Court), Antonin Scalia, John Paul Stevens, Byron R. White

Justices Dissenting

William J. Brennan, Jr., Sandra Day O'Connor


Washington, D.C.

Date of Decision

23 June 1987


That Title 23 U.S.C. 158, passed by Congress in 1984, did not violate the spending-power clause; rather, in view of a four-part test regarding aspects such as its "pursuit of `the general welfare,'" the Court found that 158 was a noncoercive effort to benefit all.

Related Cases

  • United States v. Butler, 297 U.S. 1 (1936).
  • Steward Machine Co. v. Davis, 301 U.S. 548 (1937).
  • South Carolina v. Baker, 485 U.S. 505 (1988).
  • New York v. United States, 505 U.S. 144 (1992).
  • Printz, Sheriff/Coroner, Ravalli County, Montana v. United States, 521 U.S. 98 (1996).
  • Seminole Nation of Florida v. Florida, 517 U.S. 44 (1996).


Bacon, Donald C., et al., eds. The Encyclopedia of the United States Congress. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1995.

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1981 to 1988