Brief Fact Summary. Oklahoma law prohibited the sale of beer to males under age 21 and to females under the age of 18.
Synopsis of Rule of Law. To justify a gender-based classification, a state law must be substantially related to the achievement of an important governmental objective.
Issue. Does the gender based differential constitute an unconstitutional denial of equal protection to males between the ages of 18 to 20?
Held. No. Oklahoma’s law invidiously discriminates against males 18-20 years old.
Justice William Brennan (J. Brennan) says the difference between males and females with respect to the purchase of beer does not justify the differential treatment they are accorded under Oklahoma law. Appellee’s statistics do not support the conclusion that gender-based distinctions closely function to achieve their alleged purpose.
Dissent. Justice William Rehnquist (J. Rehnquist) argues that the majority opinion is objectionable for two reasons. One, it concludes that in cases of men challenging gender-based discrimination, a more stringent standard of review is called for than is applied in cases involving most other types of classifications. Two, the Supreme Court of the United States (Supreme Court) is enunciating a test, without citation, that classifications based on gender must be substantially related to important interests.
Justice Lewis Powell (J. Powell) said this gender-based classification does not bear a fair and substantial relation to the purpose of the legislation.
Justice John Paul Stevens (J. Stevens) says there is only one Equal Protection Clause. It does not require the courts to apply one standard of review in some cases and a different one in other cases.
Discussion. This case establishes the current standard of review for gender-based classifications. The same standard applies without regard for which gender is being discriminated against.