Why is South Carolina’s Drinking Age 21? It’s About Federal Highway Funding.
In all 50 states, it is illegal to drink if you are under the age of 21.
Why? Did all 50 states somehow come to the same conclusion that 21 is the magic number and anyone younger than 21 cannot handle alcohol consumption?
Wisconsin is considering lowering their drinking age, but it is not likely to happen. A constitutional challenge to South Carolina’s drinking age was shot down in 2011.
There is a reason that all 50 states made 21 their minimum drinking age and that all challenges to the laws have failed: It is all about how the federal government dictates every state’s law and policies with 1) the promise of federal funds and 2) the threat of withholding those funds.
Wisconsin’s Doomed Push to Lower the Drinking Age
Wisconsin lawmakers this month are debating whether they should lower their drinking age to 19, citing the same common-sense arguments we have heard for the last 30 years:
“At 19 years old, there are very few things that you cannot do,” said 38-year-old Rep. Adam Jarchow, of Balsam Lake, in a memo to colleagues seeking their support. Nineteen-year-olds have legally been an adult for one year, can enlist in the military and be sent thousands of miles away to fight, but can’t “enjoy an alcoholic beverage,” he said.
There are many common-sense arguments for lowering the drinking age, and, in some states, there are solid legal arguments for lowering the drinking age. Why, then, is the drinking age still 21 across the board?
It’s because the federal government has effectively dictated what the drinking age will be for each state with a 1984 federal law that says any state that lowers their drinking age below 21 will lose eight percent of their federal highway funding – $53.7 million in Wisconsin for just one year…
City of Rock Hill v. Harris and SC’s Drinking Age
Article 17 Section 14 of the South Carolina Constitution prohibits our legislature from making any law that would affect the rights of persons 18 years of age or older – a provision that was honored in a 2008 case holding that South Carolina’s possession of handgun statute was unconstitutional as applied to persons aged 18-21.
There is one exception to this SC constitutional provision that applies to the sale of alcohol but not the possession or consumption of alcohol. In City of Rock Hill v. Harris, a 2011 S.C. Supreme Court case, the defendant pointed out that although the SC Constitution permits the legislature to regulate the sale of alcohol to persons over the age of 18, it prohibits the legislature from criminalizing the possession or consumption of alcohol by any person over the age of 18.
The Court in Harris bent over backward to not invalidate SC’s minor in possession statute by saying that “sale” necessarily includes “possession” and “consumption.” To hold otherwise, the Court said, would have had the “absurd result” of allowing 18-21-year old’s to drink alcohol while preventing them from purchasing it.
That would not really have been an absurd result, but the Court had to find some reason to protect the drinking age. If they had not, South Carolina would have lost millions in federal highway funding each year and the legislature, who elects our Supreme Court Justices, would have been extremely unhappy with the justices who issued the decision…
Charged with Minor in Possession of Alcohol in Myrtle Beach SC?
For the foreseeable future, the drinking age will be 21 in South Carolina and across the country. In South Carolina, this can result in state or municipal charges for selling alcohol to a minor, possession of alcohol by a minor, and even consumption of alcohol by a minor.
If you or your loved one was charged with possession of alcohol by a minor, it is important that you talk to a Myrtle Beach criminal defense lawyer quickly. If you are convicted of an alcohol offense, it can result in a criminal record, jail time, fines, loss of financial aid for college students, and even expulsion from your college depending on the outcome of the college’s administrative hearing.
In most cases, we can avoid the negative consequences of an alcohol-related conviction by getting your case dismissed, by using a pretrial program like the Alcohol Education Program (AEP), or by winning your case at trial.
Call Coastal Law, LLC now at (843) 488-5000 or fill out our online form to set up a free, confidential consultation.
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