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Craig v. Boren

    Brief Fact Summary. The Appellants, Craig, Whitener and others (Appellants), appeal the ruling of a federal district court upholding a statute’s gender-based classification for the sale of 3.2% beer.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. In order to withstand a constitutional challenge, gender-based classifications must serve important governmental objectives and must be substantially related to the achievement of those objectives.

    Facts. An Oklahoma statute prohibited the sale of 3.2% “nonintoxicating” beer to males under the age of 21 and to females under the age of 18. The Appellants, a male between the age of 18 and 21 years, and the Appellant, Whitener, a licensed vendor of 3.2% beer sought injunctive and declaratory relief against the imposition of the Oklahoma statute’s gender differential between males and females and sought to have the statute declared unconstitutional because it “constituted invidious discrimination against males 18-20 years of age.” The statute’s constitutionality was sustained and the action was dismissed. The Supreme Court of the United States (Supreme Court) reversed this decision.

    Issue. Whether the Oklahoma statute denies males between the ages of 18 and 21, the equal protection of the laws because it maintains a lower age restriction on the sale of 3.2% beer to females and a higher age restriction for males.

    Held. Justice William Brennan (J. Brennan). Yes. Differentiating between males and females for purpose of setting age restrictions on the sale of 3.2% beer “constitutes a denial of the Equal Protections of the Laws to males aged 18-20.” The judgment of the District Court is reversed.
    Gender-based classification can withstand a constitutional challenge if the classification “serve[s] important governmental objectives and . . . [is] substantially related to achievement of those objectives.”
    Traffic safety and protecting the health and welfare of the public are “important function[s] of state and local governments. However, a showing of statistical evidence that males where more likely than females to drive while drunk proved to be insufficient support for the objectives set forth for the line of scrutiny required for gender-based classifications and to “withstand [an] equal protection challenge.”

    Dissent. The dissenting opinions are as follows:
    Chief Justice Warren Burger (J. Burger). The court “makes gender a disfavored classification” and fails to provide a “constitutional basis supporting the right asserted or disfavoring the classification adopted.”
    Judge William Rehnquist (J. Rehnquist). The court mistakenly concludes that “men challenging a gender-based statute which treats them less favorably than women may invoke a more stringent standard of judicial review than pertains to most other types of classifications.” This case should be decided under the rationality standard of review. The court creates a new standard of review regarding gender-based classifications – that “serve important governmental objectives and . . . [that is] substantially related to achievement of those objectives” – but, the court does not provide any “citation to any source” that would support this new standard of review.
    Concurrence. The concurring opinions are as follows:
    Justice Harry Blackmun (J. Blackmun). The “Twenty-first Amendment does not save the challenged Oklahoma statute.”
    Justice Lewis Powell (J. Powell). The court has created an intermediate, middle tier standard of review.
    Justice John Paul Stevens (J. Stevens). The standard of review for gender-based classifications, devised by the Court, is not “totally irrational.” “The legislation imposes a restraint on one hundred percent of the males in the class allegedly because about 2% of them have probably violated one or more laws relating to the consumption of alcoholic beverages.”

    Discussion. The Supreme Court now allows for three standards of review when equal protection challenges are presented to the Supreme Court. Included with the rational basis standard and the strict scrutiny standard, the Supreme Court now imposes a standard that falls in between the two historically recognized standards. The intermediate, middle tier standard that the court imposes in this case allows gender-based classifications, under judicial review, to be more efficiently analyzed for purposes of determining the constitutionality of the classifications.


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