Dillon v. Gloss

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256 U.S. 368 (1921), argued 22 Mar. 1921, decided 16 May 1921 by vote of 9 to 0; Van Devanter for the Court. This case involved a conviction for transporting intoxicating liquors in violation of the Volstead Act. Dillon raised two issues. First, he challenged the provision requiring ratification of the Eighteenth Amendment within seven years. Second, he argued that the law under which he was charged was not effective until one year after the Eighteenth Amendment was proclaimed by the secretary of state (and hence after his arrest) rather than one year after its ratification. On the first issue, Justice Willis Van Devanter decided that Congress could set a reasonable deadline so that ratification was “sufficiently contemporaneous … to reflect the will of the people in all sections at relatively the same time period” (p. 375). On the second issue, the Court ruled that the amendment's date of consummation, not its proclamation, was controlling.

The Eighteenth Amendment was the first to specify a deadline within its text. When the Equal Rights Amendment was proposed, the deadline was placed in an accompanying authorizing resolution that, in a debated move, Congress later extended. Deadlines within the texts of amendments are presumably self-enforcing. Without distinguishing internal from external deadlines, Dillon v. Gloss ruled that ratifications must be contemporaneous and left to the judgment of Congress. Coleman v. Miller (1939) reinforced and widened Dillon in declaring that the ratification issue was a political question for congressional resolution.

John R. Vile

Subjects: Law.

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