An Oklahoma law instituted different drinking ages for males and females in regards to the sale of “nonintoxicating” 3.2% beer. The law was challenged as discriminatory.
Laws that discriminate on the basis of sex are subject to intermediate scrutiny under the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.
An Oklahoma law prohibited the sale of “nonintoxicating” 3.2% beer to males under the age of 21 and to females under the age of 18. Craig, a male then between the ages of 18 and 21 brought suit, challenging the law as discriminatory.
Does the Oklahoma statute violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment by establishing different drinking ages for men and women?
Yes, the Oklahoma statute violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment by establishing different drinking ages for men and women.
The Oklahoma statute challenged here need pass only rational basis review, per prior precedent. The Court’s standard of review “comes out of thin air.” The Equal Protection Clause contains no such language, and none of our previous cases adopt that standard.
The classification at issue is not totally irrational, for the evidence does reflect that there are more males than females in the excluded age bracket who drive and also more who drink. Nevertheless, it is difficult to believe that the statute was actually intended to cope with the problem of traffic safety, since it has only a minimal effect and the beer at issue has very low alcohol content.
The gender classifications made by the Oklahoma statute are unconstitutional because the statistics relied on by the state are insufficient to show a substantial relationship between the statute and the benefits intended to stem from it. In other words, the state was unable to show a substantial relationship between the law and the maintenance of traffic safety because the relationship between gender and traffic safety is too tenuous. Generalities about the alleged differences in drinking habits of men and women are not sufficient.