Tags: Constitutional Law, Sex Equality
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The case of "Craig et al. v. Boren, Governor of Oklahoma, et al." involves a statute in Oklahoma that prohibits the sale of 3.2% beer to males under 21 and females under 18. The Supreme Court reversed the decision of a three-judge court that upheld the constitutionality of the differential. The court concluded that the vendor could rely on the equal protection objections of males aged 18-20 to establish her claim of unconstitutionality of the age-sex differential. The court notes that the impact of the litigation on third-party interests is crucial to permit jus tertii standing, similar to the case of Eisenstadt v. Baird. The law challenged here explicitly regulates the sale of 3.2% beer, leaving a vendor as the obvious claimant.
In summary, the case involves a challenge to Oklahoma's gender-based law that creates an age difference for purchasing 3.2% beer based on gender. The court concludes that the gender-based distinction in the Oklahoma statute is not substantially related to achieving the traffic-safety goal and cannot withstand an equal protection challenge under Reed. The Twenty-first Amendment does not override the Equal Protection Clause, and gender-based discrimination in state-regulated liquor establishments is unconstitutional. Oklahoma's law treating males aged 18-20 differently based on their gender violates equal protection laws. The Court's decision is based on whether the chosen classification has a fair and substantial relation to the legislation's objective. The classification in this case is objectionable because it reflects a tradition of discriminating against males in a certain age bracket. The State's traffic safety justification is not enough to make the classification acceptable.
The Oklahoma statutes treating males and females differently regarding the consumption of 3.2% beer are discriminatory. The Court applied an intermediate level of scrutiny, but there is no history of past discrimination against males in this age group to support special scrutiny. The Court should not treat gender classification as a talisman that automatically triggers a heavier burden of judicial review without considering the rights involved or the persons affected. The traditional minimum rationality approach should be used. The statistical evidence shows that males in the 18-20 age group were arrested for "driving under the influence" and "drunkenness" much more frequently than females in the same age group. Other surveys indicate that males in the 17-21 age group were overrepresented among those killed or injured in Oklahoma traffic accidents. Such accommodations should be respected unless no reasonable basis can be found to support them.
The Court upheld a statute that bars 18-20-year-old males from purchasing 3.2% beer, as the State of Oklahoma had valid reasons to believe they are more likely to drive while intoxicated and suffer traffic injuries. The gender-based difference in treatment in this case is not irrational, and the harm caused by the present legislation is minor compared to other cases where the Court has invalidated statutes. The classification in this case cannot be justified solely on the basis of administrative convenience, but since males in the age group drink and drive at a higher rate than the group as a whole, a statutory bar that applies only to them does not create a due process problem. The Court's argument that a 2% correlation between being male and drunk driving is not enough to justify discrimination against males is relevant to due process, not equal protection.
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