National Minimum Drinking Age Act

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The National Minimum Drinking Age Act of 1984 (23 U.S.C. § 158) was passed on July 17, 1984 by the United States Congress as a mechanism whereby all states would become thereafter required to legislate and enforce the age of 21 years as a minimum age for purchasing and publicly possessing alcoholic beverages. Under the Federal Aid Highway Act, a state not enforcing the minimum age would be subjected to a ten percent decrease in its annual federal highway apportionment.[1]

While this act did not outlaw the consumption of alcoholic beverages by those under 21 years of age, some states extended its provisions into an outright ban. However, most states still permit "underage" consumption of alcohol in some circumstances. In some states, no restriction on private consumption is made, while in others, consumption is only allowed in specific locations, in the presence of consenting and supervising family members as in the states of California, Colorado, Montana, New York, Wisconsin, and Wyoming. The Act also does not seek to illegalize alcohol consumption during religious occasions.[2][3]


[edit] Opposition

The Amethyst Initiative is an organization made up of U.S. college presidents and chancellors that in July 2008 launched a movement calling for the reconsideration of U.S. drinking age laws

The Conservative Party of New York opposed the passage of the law in 1984, but according to The New York Post no longer considers the effort to bring back drinking by those under 21 worthwhile. In 2001, according to the same article, New York State Assembly member Felix Ortiz introduced a bill that would lower the drinking age back to 18. He cited unfairness and difficulty with enforcement as his motivations.[4]

In 1998, the National Youth Rights Association was founded, in part, to seek to lower the drinking age back to 18. NYRA has worked on legislation in many states and continues to be an active force in opposition to the drinking age act. In 2004, the president of Vermont's Middlebury College, John McCardell, Jr. wrote in The New York Times that "the 21-year-old drinking age is bad social policy and terrible law" that has made the college drinking problem far worse.[5] Ruth C Engs[6] and Barrett Seaman agree. In 2008, over 100 college presidents across the United States went public with the call for a reconsideration of the drinking age law. [7] This movement by college presidents across the nation is referred to as the Amethyst Initiative, named after the purple gemstone amethyst which in Ancient Greece was believed to ward off drunkenness if used in drinking vessels and jewelry.

One group in this opposition argues for a compromise in which beer and wine would be legalized for 18 year olds, while the minimum age for hard alcohol would remain at 21.[8] The United States is one of the few countries in the world with such a high drinking age. Other countries with similarly restrictive laws include the United Arab Emirates, Japan, Iceland, Oman, and some states in India.[9]

Others[who?] have opposed the legislation on the grounds that it infringes on states' rights and violates the spirit (if not the letter) of the Tenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, which explicitly reserves powers not specifically granted to the federal government to the states.

[edit] Constitutionality questioned

The state government of South Dakota questioned the national drinking age, suing then-Secretary of Transportation Elizabeth Dole in the case South Dakota v. Dole. However, in the majority opinion authored by Chief Justice William Rehnquist, the power of Congress to withhold federal funds in pursuit of national policies, such as the drinking age, was upheld.

However, the constitutionality of individual state enactments of the requirements of the Act on the basis of equal protection and substantive due process have never been tested in a court of law. Some, such as the National Youth Rights Association, argue that these laws reduce adult citizens between the ages of 18 to 20 to a subordinate and inferior class of beings by denying them the same protections of the law guaranteed to all other adult citizens.

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