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Craig v. Boren

Citation. 429 U.S. 190, 97 S.Ct. 451, 50 L.Ed.2d 397 (1976).

Brief Fact Summary.

An Oklahoma statute created different drinking ages for males and females. Plaintiff challenged its constitutionality.

Synopsis of Rule of Law.

Sex-based classifications are subject to intermediate scrutiny under the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment.

Facts.

An Oklahoma statute prohibited the sale of “nonintoxication” 3.2% beer to males under the age of 21 and to females under the age of 18. Plaintiff challenged the statute under the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment as discriminatory

Issue.

Whether the Oklahoma statute violates the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment by instituting different drinking ages on the basis of sex.

Held.

Yes. The Oklahoma statute violates the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment by instituting different drinking ages on the basis of sex.

Dissent.

Justice Burgher

Without an independent constitutional basis supporting the right asserted or disfavoring the classification adopted, I cannot justify any sort of substantive constitutional protection.

Justice Rehnquist

The Oklahoma statute here need pass only rational basis review, i.e., be rationally related to a legitimate government interest, under prior precedent.

Concurrence.

Justice Stevens

This sex-based classification is not totally irrational because there is some evidence. Nevertheless, it is difficult to believe the statute was actually intended to cope with the problem of traffic safety, since it has only a minimal effect on access to a not-very-intoxicating beverage and does not prohibit its consumption.

Justice Powell

I agree Reed is the most relevant precedent, but the Court reads the opinion too broadly. Our decision today will be viewed as some middle-tier approach and I would not endorse that characterization.

Discussion.

To withstand constitutional challenge, previous cases establish that classifications based on gender must serve an important government interest and be substantially related to the achievement of those objectives. Reed is also controlling. Increasingly outdated misconceptions concerning the role of females were rejected. Legislatures cannot rely on archaic, overboard generalizations. Moreover, the statistics offered here exhibit a variety of shortcomings and methodological problems.

The difference between males and females with respect to the purchase of 3.2% beer does not warrant the differential in age drawn by the Oklahoma statute. The principles in the Equal Protection Clause are not to be rendered inapplicable by statistically measured but loose-fitting generalities concerning the drinking tendencies of aggregate groups., Judgement reversed.


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