Summer Reading: Last Call — The Rise and Fall of Prohibition
A long holiday weekend is coming up, and I just might have a beer . . . which reminds me of Daniel Okrent’s very enjoyable and illuminating Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition. It’s a terrific read, full of unlikely political alliances (e.g., the coalition that successfully pushed for Prohibition included both progressives and the Klan), new social developments (according to Okrent, only with the speakeasy’s rise during Prohibition did significant numbers of American men and women begin to drink together socially outside the home), and technological surprises (rumrunners’ operations from the Caribbean and Canada to spots off the eastern seaboard triggered the responsive growth of the Coast Guard, which in turn spurred the rumrunners to improve powerboat design in ways that remain important today).
There’s plenty here for law professors in particular. A couple of years ago I blogged about my interest in teaching a class on Beer Law to explore various beer-related cases and what they tell us about constitutional (not to mention tort, contract, and intellectual property) law. Thanks to Okrent, now I have even more to add to my draft syllabus. Recall, for example, Olmstead v. United States (Roy Olmstead was not only a lieutenant in the Seattle police department but also a very successful bootlegger), in which the Court found that the government’s wiretaps to enforce the Volstead Act did not violate the Fourth Amendment. Also fascinating is the story of the “dry” movement’s successful effort to block congressional reapportionment to lock in dry congressional majorities. Because the nation’s rural-to-urban demographic shift as documented by the 1920 Census would have meant considerably more political power for the (often very “wet”) cities, dry advocates blocked 42 separate reapportionment bills in the House for the better part of a decade before reapportionment was finally enacted in June 1929; Prohibition’s repeal was then just a few years away.
Cheers . . . .