Largely forgotten is federal legislation that incentivizes states to make it illegal for young adults – those aged 18, 19, and 20 – to drink alcohol.
The U.S. has one of the most stringent drinking age policies in the world. It stems from legislation signed by President Ronald Reagan in 1984.
The National Minimum Drinking Age Act (NMDA) did not create a drinking age; instead, it withheld federal funding from states that did not raise the drinking age to 21. Most states played along rather than lose the precious federal dollars.
A notable exception was South Dakota, who sued the federal government, arguing that Congress had exceeded its constitutional mandate and violated the 21st Amendment (which had repealed Prohibition). The case went to the Supreme Court. South Dakota lost.