Brief Fact Summary.
The Oklahoma statute that set different minimum ages to be eligible to buy certain beer for males and females has been challenged.
Synopsis of Rule of Law.
Statutory classifications that distinguish between males and females are subject to scrutiny under the Equal Protection Clause. To withstand constitutional challenge, the classifications by gender must serve important governmental objectives and must be substantially related to achievement of those objectives.
Moreover, insofar as the applicable constitutional questions have been and continue to be presented vigorously and cogently, the denial of jus tertii standing in deference to a direct class suit can serve no functional purpose.View Full Point of Law
The Oklahoma statute prohibits the sale of “non-intoxicating” 3.2% beer to males under the age of 21 and to females under the age of 18. The statute was alleged to constitute a denial to males 18-20 years of age of the equal protection of the laws in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment.
Does the Oklahoma statute prohibits the sale of “non-intoxicating” 3.2% beer to males under the age of 21 and to females under the age of 18 violate the Equal Protection Clause?
Yes, the gender-based differential contained in the Oklahoma statute constitutes a denial of the equal protection of the laws to males aged 18-20, because the statute invidiously discriminates against males 19-20 years of age.
The Court’s conclusion that a law which treats males less favorably than females must serve important government objectives and must be substantially related to achievement of those objectives apparently comes out of thin air. The word substantially requires courts to make subjective judgments as to operational facts, for which neither their expertise nor their access to data fits them. Even though the Court manage to avoid both confusion and the mirroring of its own preferences in the development of this new doctrine, judges in other courts who must interpret the Equal Protection Clause, may not be so fortunate.
The protection of public health and safety represents an important function of state and local governments. However, appellees’ statistics does not support the conclusion that the gender-based distinction closely serves that objective and therefore the distinction cannot withstand equal protection challenge. The most relevant of the statistical surveys, arrests of 18-20 years olds for alcohol-related driving offenses, exemplifies the ultimate unpersuasiveness of the evidentiary record. Viewed in terms of the correlation between sex and the actual activity that Oklahoma seeks to regulate the statistics broadly establish that .18% of females and 2% of males in that age group were arrested for the offense. Such evidence can hardly form the basis for employment of a gender line as a classifying device. Certainly if maleness is to serve as a proxy for drinking and driving, a correlation of 2% must be considered an unduly tenuous fit. Precedents have consistently rejected the use of sex as a decision-making factor even though the statutes in question certainly rested on far more predictive empirical relationships than this.