Webb-Kenyon Act

The Webb-Kenyon Act, passed in 1913 by the U.S. Congress, prohibits interstate "shipment or transportation" of alcoholic beverages "in violation of any law of [any] State, Territory, or District of the United States." The Act was sponsored by Rep. Edwin Y. Webb, Democrat of North Carolina and William S. Kenyon, Republican of Iowa and passed over the veto of President William Taft.

The law permitted state prohibition laws to regulate interstate commerce in alcoholic beverages. The Supreme Court upheld the Webb-Keyon Act in Clark Distilling Company v. Western Maryland Railway Co. (1917).

Earlier, the Supreme Court had overturned state laws that attempted to regulate interstate commerce because the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution grants Congress the power to "regulate Commerce with foreign nations, and among the several states, and with the Indian Tribes."

Reacting to the Court's decision in Leisy v. Hardin (1890) that a state could not, without Congressional authorization, prohibit the importation of alcoholic beverages, Congress passed the Wilson Act in the same year.

The Wilson Act, which is still in effect, provides "That all fermented, distilled or other intoxicating liquors or liquids transported into any State or Territory or remaining therein for use, consumption, sale or storage therein, shall, upon arrival in such State or Territory be subject to the operation and effect of the laws of such State or Territory, enacted in the exercise of its police power to the same extent and in the same manner as though such liquids or liquors had been produced in such State or Territory and shall not be exempt therefrom by reason of being introduced therein in original packages or otherwise." The Supreme Court subsequently upheld the law in In re Rahrer (1891).

With the growing power of the temperance movement and the proliferation of "dry" states (i.e., those with state-wide prohibition of alcoholic beverages), the Webb-Kenyon Act was passed to prohibit the importation of such beverages into those states. The law was re-enacted following the repeal of National Prohibition because many states remained dry.

The provisions of the Webb-Kenyon Act were relevant to Granhold v. Heald (2005), in which the Supreme Court addressed the issue of state prohibitions against the direct shipment of wine from out-of-state but not against direct shipments from in-state wineries.

The Webb-Kenyon Act was passed to promote and protect prohibition. Surprisingly, in spite of the abysmal and undeniable failure of prohibition, many people and organizations today support neo-prohibition ideas and strongly defend the many vestiges of Prohibition that continue to remain.

Readings on the Webb-Kenyon Act:

  • Burns, John M. Why Taft Vetoed the Webb-Kenyon Act, Why Wilson Vetoed the Volstead Act. Montgomery, AL: Wilson, 1930.
  • Constitutionality of Webb-Kenyon Act. Columbia Law Review, 1914, 14(4), 330-332.
  • The Constitutionality of the Webb-Kenyon Act. Michigan Law Review, 1914, 12(7), 585-589.
  • Denison, Winfred T. States' Rights and the Webb-Kenyon Act. Columbia Law Review, 1914, 14(4), 321-329.
  • Murrell, Daniel R. Prelude to Prohibition: The Anti-Saloon League and the Webb-Kenyon Act. Thesis. 1974. OCLC Number 15767018.
  • Powell, Thomas R. The Validity of State Legislation under the Webb-Kenyon Law: Clark Distilling Company vs. Western Maryland Railway Company. New Orleans, LA: Tulane University Press, 1917.
  • Regulation of interstate shipment of intoxicating liquors: Webb-Kenyon Act. Harvard Law Review, 1914, 27(8), 763-764.
  • Rogers, Lindsay. The Webb-Kenyon decision. Virginia Law Review, 1917, 4(7), 558-570.
  • Rogers, Lindsay. State legislation under the Webb-Kenyon Act. Harvard Law Review, 1915, 28(3), 225-236.
  • Rogers, Lindsay. Unlawful possession of intoxicating liquors and the Webb-Kenyon Act. Columbia Law Review, 1916, 16(1), 1-17.
  • Semonche, John E. Charting the Future: The Supreme Court Responds to a Changing Society, 1890–1920. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1978.
  • U.S. Congress. House Committee on the Judiciary. Amendment to the Webb-Kenyon Act, and the Private Property [Rights] Implementation Act of 1997. Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1998.
  • The Webb-Kenyon Act upheld. Columbia Law Review, 1917, 17(2), 142-147.
  • The Webb-Kenyon Act and interstate commerce. Yale Law Journal, 1917, 26(5), 339-403.

Filed Under: Prohibition

This website is informational only. It makes no suggestions or recommendations about any subject.
For more fine print, read the disclaimer.