Glass and Gavel: Analyzing Alcohol and the Supreme Court

Nancy Maveety Professor Tulane University Department of Political Science


“I liked beer. I still like beer.”

Long before then-Judge Brett Kavanaugh uttered these immortal words in his opening statement for his extended Senate confirmation hearings in late September, alcoholic beverages were a part of the life and work of the justices of the Supreme Court. In my forthcoming book, Glass and Gavel: the U.S. Supreme Court and Alcohol, I discuss how the justices have participated in both the enjoyment and the restriction of beverage alcohol throughout our country’s history. Unexpectedly topical, the book unites two of my enduring interests: the Supreme Court in the process of American political development, and American mixology—or the life and times of that American invention, the cocktail.

Glass and Gavel is the story of alcohol in American life and law, and a study of how the decisions of the U.S. Supreme Court reflect that story. Examining the social and political history of the Supreme Court by each era of its Chief Justice, the book presents the evolution of the judicial institution and the most important developments in its constitutional decision-making through the lens of the cocktail.

Providing a cocktail-by-cocktail history of the eras of the Supreme Court and its alcohol-related decisions, I illustrate how constitutional law on regulating alcohol was intimately related with the justices’ participation in the alcohol culture of their times. Along the way, I share tales of famous cases and favorite drinks—from Chief Justice Taft’s prosecution of bootleggers to Chief Justice Warren’s appreciation of a well-chilled Gimlet, and from Chief Justice Marshall’s punch-quaffing to Chief Justice Rehnquist’s sobriety checkpoint ruling.

Glass and Gavel unites the saga of tastes and practices of alcoholic beverage consumption with a survey of how constitutional law, across the history of the Supreme Court’s decision making, has been intermingled with and influenced by the question of alcohol’s place in American political culture and social life. It’s serious scholarship, but it was also a lot of fun to write.

Glass and Gavel: The U.S. Supreme Court and Alcohol, by Nancy Maveety, will be released this December.