Prohibition and American Constitutionalism
After successfully mobilizing on behalf of states’ rights, the AAPA evolved into the Liberty League seeking to stop Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal, which it considered a betrayal of their support. Roosevelt’s success in defeating them, and ensuing Supreme Court precedents like Wickard v. Filburn, ushered in an expansive understanding of federal power rendering superfluous future efforts to augment national authority via constitutional amendment. After concluding that history, the chapter assesses the prohibition debates as an application of various legal theories. Prohibition offers a model example of extrajudicial constitutional interpretation, with thoughtful, careful, public deliberation by state elected officials rather than simply deference to judicial supremacy. Perceived constitutional obligations often constrained their behavior even at great political cost. Though less obviously, prohibition also arguably serves as an example of popular constitutionalism. Far from lawlessly insisting on alcohol, American citizens arguably got the Constitution right in rejecting both nullification and state concurrent enforcement laws, effectively adopting the non-commandeering doctrine illustrated by later cases like Printz v. United States. As both our contemporary indifference to citing (and being constrained by) the enumerated powers and flirtations with nullification attest, the era’s sophisticated constitutional dialogue has not always been the norm in American history.
Keywords: Liberty League, Wickard v Filburn, extrajudicial constitutional interpretation, popular constitutionalism, judicial supremacy, non commandeering doctrine, Printz v United States, nullification, enumerated powers
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