Craig v. Boren
Decided on Dec. 20, 1976; 429 US 190


Setting an older age limit for the purchase of alcohol for males than for females
constitutes gender-based discrimination in violation of the equal protection clause.

 

I. ISSUES II. CASE SUMMARY III. AMICI CURIAE IV. DECISION V. WIN OR LOSS?
I. ISSUES:

A. Issues Discussed:  Gender discrimination 

B. Legal Question Presented:

Does a state statute that establishes a different drinking age for men and women constitute a denial of the equal protection of the laws in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment?
II. CASE SUMMARY:

A. Background:

"Appellant Craig, a male then between 18 and 21 years old, and appellant Whitener, a licensed vendor of 3.2% beer, brought this action for declaratory and injunctive relief, claiming that an Oklahoma statutory scheme prohibiting the sale of 'nonintoxicating' 3.2% beer to males under the age of 21 and to females under the age of 18 constituted a gender-based discrimination that denied to males 18-20 years of age the equal protection of the laws.

Recognizing that Reed v. Reed, and later cases establish that classification by gender must substantially further important governmental objectives, a three-judge District Court held that appellees' statistical evidence regarding young males' drunk-driving arrests and traffic injuries demonstrated that the gender-based discrimination was substantially related to the achievement of traffic safety on Oklahoma roads."

On appeal, the U.S. Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the United States District Court for the Western District of Oklahoma.

B. Counsel of Record:
ACLU Side
(Petitioner/Appellant)
Opposing Side
(Respondent/Appellee)
Unavailable Unavailable
C. The Arguments:
ACLU Side
(Petitioner/Appellant)
Opposing Side
(Respondent/Appellee)
"Oklahoma's gender/age classification is unconstitutional because it is relies on an overbroad generalization of how men and women 'are'. Gender-based discrimination cannot be justified by either a rational, or even a compelling state interest. There is no precedent which can support the legality of this statute. The statute creates artificial barriers between women and men in society's progress towards gender equality." "Restrictions may be placed on the sale of liquor. The regulations are a question of public expedience and morality, and not federal law. It is the prerogative of state legislature to protect citizens from harm arising from the sale of liquor. After the Twenty-first Amendment, states have broad discretion to regulate traffic in liquor. Since young males are more likely to drink and drive than females, it was reasonable for the legislature to pass this statute."
III. AMICI CURIAE:
ACLU Side
(Petitioner/Appellant)
Opposing Side
(Respondent/Appellee)

Frederick P. Gilbert argued the cause and filed briefs for appellants.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Melvin L. Wulf filed a brief for the American Civil Liberties Union as amicus curiae urging reversal.

James H. Gray, Assistant Attorney General of Oklahoma, argued the cause for appellees. With him on the brief was Larry Derryberry, Attorney General.
IV. THE SUPREME COURT'S DECISION:

"...Oklahoma's gender-based differential constitutes an invidious discrimination against males 18-20 years of age in violation of the Equal Protection Clause. Appellees' statistics (the most relevant of which show only that .18% of females and 2% of males in the 18-20-year-old age group were arrested for driving while under the influence of liquor) do not warrant the conclusion that sex represents an accurate proxy for the regulation of drinking and driving.

The operation of the Twenty-first Amendment does not alter the application of equal protection standards that otherwise govern this case. The Court has never recognized that application of that Amendment can defeat an otherwise established claim under the Equal Protection Clause, the principles of which cannot be rendered inapplicable here by reliance upon statistically measured but loose-fitting generalities concerning the drinking tendencies of aggregate groups."

The United States Supreme Court reversed the United States District Court for the Western District of Oklahoma judgment.

Justice Vote: 7 Pro vs. 2 Con
  • Brennan, W. Pro (Wrote majority opinion)
  • Powell, L. Pro (Wrote concurring opinion)
  • Stevens, J. Pro (Wrote concurring opinion)
  • Blackmun, H. Pro (Wrote concurring opinion)
  • Stewart, P. Pro (Wrote concurring opinion)
  • White, B. Pro (Joined majority opinion)
  • Marshall, T. Pro (Joined majority opinion)
  • Burger, W. Con (Wrote dissenting opinion)
  • Rehnquist, W. Con (Wrote dissenting opinion)
V. A WIN OR LOSS FOR THE ACLU?

The ACLU, as amicus curiae, urged reversal of the judgment of the United States District Court for the Western District of Oklahoma; the Supreme Court reversed in a 7-2 vote, giving the ACLU an apparent win.