Webb-Kenyon Act (U.S. Law Promoting Prohibition in States)

The U.S. Congress passed the Webb-Kenyon Act in 1913. It prohibited interstate “shipment or transportation” of alcoholic beverages. It prohibited such “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. It passed over the veto of President William Taft.

Edwin Y. Webb
William S. Kenyon

The law permitted state prohibition laws to regulate interstate commerce of alcohol. 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. That’s because the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution. It grants Congress the power to “regulate Commerce with foreign nations, and among the several states.”

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Wilson Act

Congress passed the Wilson Act in the same year. In so doing, it was reacting to the Court’s decision in Leisy v. Hardin (1890). That decision held that a state could not, without Congressional authorization, prohibit the importation of alcohol.

The Wilson Act is still in effect. It provides that alcohol brought into a state is subject to that state’s laws. The Supreme Court soon upheld the law in In re Rahrer (1891).

The temperance movement and more states became “dry.” states.  That is, they had state-wide prohibition of alcohol.  The Webb-Kenyon Act was passed to prohibit the importation of such beverages into those states. The law was re-enacted following Repeal because many states remained dry.

Important Today

The provisions of the Webb-Kenyon Act were relevant to Granholm v. Heald (2005). In that case the Supreme Court addressed the issue of state prohibitions against the direct shipment of wine from out-of-state. It’s wasn’t against direct shipments from in-state wineries.

The Webb-Kenyon Act was passed to promote and protect prohibition. Prohibition was a complete failure. Worse. it caused many serious problems. Yet many people today support neo-prohibition ideas. They also strongly defend the many remainders of Prohibition that continue today.

Readings on the Webb-Kenyon Act

    • Burns, J. Why Taft Vetoed the Webb-Kenyon Act. Why Wilson Vetoed the Volstead Act. Montgomery, AL: Wilson, 1930.
    • Denison, W. States’ Rights and the Webb-Kenyon Act. Colum Law Rev, 1914, 14(4), 321-329.
    • Rogers, L. The Webb-Kenyon decision. Virg Law Rev, 1917, 4(7), 558-570.
    • ______. State legislation under the Webb-Kenyon Act. Harvard Law Rev, 1915, 28(3), 225-236.
    • Semonche, J. The Supreme Court Responds to a Changing Society, 1890–1920. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 1978.
    • The Webb-Kenyon Act upheld. Colum Law Rev, 1917, 17(2), 142-147.
    • The Webb-Kenyon Act and interstate commerce. Yale Law J, 1917, 26(5), 339-403.