Only three states didn’t ratify the 18th Amendment establishing Prohibition, before it went into effect: Connecticut, New Jersey, and Rhode Island. As Prohibition was about to take effect, Rhode Island considered disobeying it.
A few months after this June 1919 article, the state attempted to do just that. In December 1919, the state’s Attorney General Herbert Rice filed a lawsuit seeking to declare the 18th Amendment unconstitutional. Historian David Kyvig summarizes Rice’s argument before the U.S. Supreme Court:
Attorney General Rice began by arguing that the amendment invaded the sovereignty of Rhode Island and her people, an invasion not contemplated by the amending clause of the Constitution. Rhode Island had not ratified the Eighteenth Amendment. The amending power, Rice contended, was provided to allow for the correction of errors in the fundamental instrument of government. The first ten amendments were adopted to insure against the encroachment by the federal government upon state functions and powers. If the amending power were to be construed as to allow any type of amendment, the boundary between federal and state authority could be shifted at will, and the people of a state would be at the mercy of others in matters of political institutions and personal rights.
His argument fell on deaf ears, with the Supreme Court upholding Prohibition unanimously.
Recalcitrant Rhode Island
Published: Sunday, June 29, 1919
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