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 . . . .

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5 Responses

  1. Bill Reynolds says:

    Helen. There are slso good beer M & A/Antitrust cases. if you broaden the topic to alcohol generally, an awful lot of pivotal EU law turns on the topic. Bill

  2. Orin Kerr says:

    Thanks for the recommendation: Just bought it on your rec.

  3. John Steele says:

    Sounds like a fun course. I thought I’d mention that Berkeley has a Wine Law course, with this description:

    California accounts for 90% of all wines produced in the United States. The California wine industry has an annual impact of $51.8 billion on the state’s economy and $125.3 billion on the national economy. Wine is the number one finished agricultural product in the state. This course examines the major legal issues facing the wine industry in the areas of constitutional law, administrative law, intellectual property, domestic land use and environmental laws, and international trade. Specific topics include Prohibition and Twenty-first Amendment jurisprudence, federal and state alcohol beverage regulatory systems (market structure, licensing, taxation, product standards, trade practices), wine labeling, appellations of origin, wine and health, liquor liability, land use planning, resource conservation issues for vineyards and wineries, and international trade policy (tariff and non-tariff barriers). There are no prerequisites.

  4. Brett Bellmore says:

    Given the war on drugs, shouldn’t that be “The rise and fall and rise…”?

  5. Ken Rhodes says:


    In my other life — as a baseball fanatic — Daniel Okrent was a name well known to me as a baseball writer. His “Nine Innings” is a terrific book, and he invented Rotisserie Leagues and WHIP. It never occurred to me to google him to discover that baseball was a sidelight to a distinguished career.