High Programmer > Blog Archive > Constitutions and Liquor
Tuesday, May 04, 2004

Constitutions and Liquor

The Constutition of the United States of America is a great document. At just 4,632 words (including signatures) it elegantly sets forth a basis for a democratic republic capable of adapting to changing times. It's worked so well that it's been amended a mere 27 times. Of those 27, 10 were effectively part of the original constitution, a set of compromises to get various states to sign on. With only one notably exception the amendments don't restrict freedoms; in general they protect or extend freedoms. The big exception, of course, amendment 14: prohibition. That one turned out well. I'm grateful that the ultimate law of the land has remained minimal and only addresses important, core matters. As a result, I have no end of contempt for anti-flag burning amendments or anti-homosexual marriage amendments. Our country's founding fathers managed to look at the big picture but these idiots want to clutter it with their current pet peeve.

Anyway, given such a great example and the reduced complexity of a state, one might expect that state constitutions would be even shorter and more elegant. Well, while doing a bit of poking around on our overkill "right to hunt" amendment I actually read Wisconsin's State Constitution. It weights in at roughly 15,000 words, three times larger than the US Constitution. It's been amended over 100 times (probably many more, it's hard to tell). It's a bloated mess full of pet peeves.

This depressed me. At least it did until I caught a segment on The Daily Show pointing out the South Carolina Constitution. It seems that South Carolina's Constitution specifies the maximum size of liquor bottles in bars. I always wondered why those little liquor bottles exist; apparently they exist so bartenders in South Carolina can pour shots and mixed drinks. And because of the nature of the law (you sell the entire bottle, which is larger than a typical "shot"), they're getting more alcohol in each mixed drink. This is a gem of bad lawmaking. To be fair, it looks like this strange law is on the way out. Still, it cheers me to know that while our state constitution may be full of embarrassing mistakes, we are by no means alone. On the down side, it's a shame that our state constitutions are full of such petty and irrelevant garbage. The founders of the United States left us with such a good template, it's a shame that we don't measure up.

Contact webmaster