National Prohibition Cases (Rhode Island v. Palmer), 253 U.S. 350; 40 S. Ct. 486; 64 L. Ed. 946 (1920)

National Prohibition Cases (Rhode Island v. Palmer), 253 U.S. 350; 40 S. Ct. 486; 64 L. Ed. 946 (1920)

Facts—The National Prohibition Cases consisted of seven cases questioning the constitutionality and legality of the Eighteenth Amendment and asking the lower courts for a restraining order against the Volstead Act enforcing that amendment.

Question—Is the Eighteenth Amendment providing for national alcoholic prohibition within the power to amend specified in Article V?


ReasonsJ. Van Devanter (7–2). The power to amend the Constitution was reserved by Article V. The Court noted the following points:

  1. The adoption by both Houses of Congress, each by a two-thirds vote, of a joint resolution proposing an amendment to the Constitution, sufficiently shows that the proposal was deemed necessary by all who voted for it. An express declaration that they regarded it as necessary is not essential. None of the resolutions whereby prior amendments were proposed contained such a declaration.
  2. The two-thirds vote in each House, which is required in proposing an amendment is a vote of two-thirds of the members present—assuming the presence of a quorum—and not a vote of two-thirds of the entire membership, present and absent. . . .
  3. The referendum provisions of state constitutions and statutes cannot be applied, consistently with the Constitution of the United States, in the ratification or rejection of amendments to it. . . .
  4. The prohibition of manufacture, sale, transportation, importation, and exportation of intoxicating liquors for beverage purposes, as embodied in the Eighteenth Amendment, is within the power to amend reserved by Article Five of the Constitution.
  5. That amendment, by lawful proposal and ratification, has become a part of the Constitution, and must be respected and given effect the same as other provisions of that instrument.”

According to the Constitution, this amendment had been legally proposed by a two-thirds vote of the members present in each house, assuming the presence of a quorum, and ratified by a majority of the legislatures in three- fourths of the states. Incorporated into that amendment was the provision “that Congress and the several states shall have concurrent power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.” This Section Two of the amendment therefore authorized the Volstead Act. The words “concurrent power,” giving concurrent power to Congress and the states to enforce that amendment, do not mean a joint power or require that legislation thereunder by Congress, to be effective, shall be approved or sanctioned by the several states or any of them, and is in no wise dependent on or affected by action, or inaction, on the part of the states or any of them.

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