1920 January 16

Prohibition Begins – Civil Liberties Abuses Follow


Ratified in January 1919, and taking effect on this day, the Eighteenth Amendment made the production, transport and sale of alcohol illegal (but not the consumption). Prohibition enforcement eventually involved a wide range of civil liberties violations, including breaking and entering, searches and seizures, and wiretapping. The amendment was repealed in 1933 by ratification of the Twenty-first Amendment, the only instance in United States history that a constitutional amendment was repealed.

Prohibition enforcement led to the important Supreme Court decision, Olmstead v. United States, decided on June 4, 1928, which addressed wiretapping related to violation of the National Prohibition Act (the Volstead Act). The case is important for the eloquent dissent by Justice Louis Brandeis on a constitutional right to privacy.

Learn more about Prohibition: Daniel Okrent, Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition (2010)

And more: Lisa McGirr, The War on Alcohol: Prohibition and the Rise of the American State (2015)

Watch a video of a “Beer Parade” demanding an end to Prohibition by New York City Mayor Jimmy Walker: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rXyldRD9WcU

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