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Monday, October 03, 2011

Teaching Prohibition in Constitutional Law

Last Spring, as I was teaching my first-year Constitutional Law course, I was listening to Daniel Okrent's very engaging book, "Last Call:  The Rise and Fall of Prohibition."  In many ways -- some of which I'd appreciated before, and others I hadn't -- the book's subject connected interestingly with the big questions and themes of the first-year course (which, at Notre Dame, focuses on "structure").  I had so many occasions to refer to the book in class, I started to worry that my students were getting the idea that I am obsessed with alcohol and its regulation.

A few years ago, Eugene Volokh and others helped me to appreciate the ways in which the Second Amendment can serve as a "teaching tool" in Constitutional Law.  It strikes me that the experience with Prohibition - how it came about, what it tells us about constitutional amendments and grassroots political movements, how it connects with questions about the census, redistricting, federalism, and the Fourth Amendment, etc. - could serve, similarly, as a teaching tool or vehicle.  Have any Prawfsblawg readers or bloggers taught Prohibition, or used it as a lens through which to look at the Constitution and constitutional law?  Any suggestions about how it could be done?

Posted by Rick Garnett on October 3, 2011 at 05:05 PM in Rick Garnett | Permalink


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I've never thought about this before, but I can see a bunch of ways in which it would be fascinating. You should put together some teaching materials on this to share.

To your list of principles that Prohibition can illustrate, I'd add the Commerce Clause. Banning the use and sale of alcohol was thought at the time to require a constitutional amendment, but banning the use and sale of drugs like marijuana and cocaine is done by statute and administrative agencies alone. Could alcohol be banned under the Commerce Clause today?

Posted by: Hanah | Oct 4, 2011 11:11:54 AM

I initially read the title of this post as a "teaching prohibition" in conlaw, as in your school wouldn't allow the subject to be taught.

Posted by: andy | Oct 3, 2011 5:28:42 PM

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