The CARE Act and the Constitution

Rebecca Spicer | Senior Vice President, National Beer Wholesalers Association

Do you support the U.S. Constitution, the 10th Amendment and the 21st Amendment?

Do you agree that state legislatures — not the federal government or unelected federal judges — are typically best positioned to decide on alcohol policy issues?

If you answer “yes” to these questions, then you’ll likely answer “yes” to one more question: Do you support H.R. 1161, the Community Alcohol Regulatory Effectiveness (CARE) Act of 2011?

The CARE Act is a direct response to those who want to legislate from the bench and limit states’ rights through litigation.

More than half the states have been sued by plaintiffs wishing to restrict the ability of states to regulate alcohol as granted by the 21st Amendment to the Constitution. Simply put, this litigation is costing states millions of dollars — millions of taxpayers’ dollars at times of record deficits — because these plaintiffs just don’t like certain state laws regarding alcohol. So instead of making changes through the state legislature — which is held accountable by the citizens — these plaintiffs are choosing to make changes through the courts, hoping to convince unelected federal judges to change or overturn the laws elected lawmakers in your home state enacted.

That’s why nearly 40 state attorneys general wrote Congress last year, prior to the CARE Act’s introduction, asking Congress to “…bring a stop to the erosion of state alcohol laws by re-enforcing the states’ ability to regulate alcohol…” It’s also why the CARE Act has been supported by a wide range of groups including law enforcement, state alcohol regulators and other organizations including Concerned Women for America.

The CARE Act of 2011 already has support from an impressive, bipartisan group of more than 50 members of Congress who are co-sponsors of this legislation. The co-sponsors represent more than half the states, spanning coast to coast.

Unfortunately, some opponents of this legislation are claiming that it is “unconstitutional.” That is a very curious claim since the language of the CARE Act is consistent with the Constitution and previous congressional intent. Consider the 10th Amendment and the 21st Amendment:

  • The 10th Amendment (1791) says that “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”
  • The 21st Amendment (1933) gives states the right to regulate alcohol, stating, “The transportation or importation into any State, Territory, or possession of the United States for delivery or use therein of intoxicating liquors, in violation of the laws thereof, is hereby prohibited.”

So, the Constitution gives states the right to regulate alcohol, language which is reflected in the CARE Act.

Some opponents are also claiming that the CARE Act will prevent direct shipping of wine, or it will allow states to discriminate against out-of-state wineries, but that simply is not the case. Language in the CARE Act directly mirrors language in the 2005 Granholm v. Heald Supreme Court ruling on that very issue. So rather than undercut or circumvent the high court’s ruling to prevent discrimination against out-of-state wineries, the CARE Act actually reflects the Supreme Court ruling. As for direct shipping of wine, if your home state allows you to have wine shipped from a winery (and there are nearly 40 such states), the CARE Act will not change that. In fact, the CARE Act will actually reaffirm the state’s ability to enact laws that reflect the will of the people — including if that will is to allow direct shipping of wine.

Within today’s effective system of state-based alcohol regulation, America has seen an explosion of new, small businesses which has generated thousands of new jobs as well as vast choice and variety for the consumer. It is within this system that we now have more than 1,700 independent breweries across the country, which is up dramatically from just a few dozen breweries in the 1980s. It is this system that supports the 13,000 labels of beer and the 50,000 labels of wine that are available to consumers from coast to coast. And all of this is within a system that works to balance healthy marketplace competition with public safety.

In summary, the CARE Act is about WHO should make decisions about alcohol regulation (elected state legislators instead of unelected federal judges in distant courts), not WHAT those decisions should be. A recent national survey showed that nearly 80 percent of Americans support states’ ability to set alcohol laws and regulations that keep them safe, and the CARE Act is consistent with the voice and the will of those people.

For those who support the U.S. Constitution, states’ rights and the voice of the people, the CARE Act is a very important piece of legislation. I encourage you to read more about why the CARE Act is needed, what’s at risk and the language of the legislation itself at

Rebecca Spicer is the Vice President of Public Affairs & Communications at the National Beer Wholesalers Association and previously served in the George W. Bush White House and at WJLA-TV in Washington, D.C.

Tags : alcohol constitution states rights
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