Goesaert v. Cleary

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Goesaert v. Cleary
Seal of the United States Supreme Court.svg
Argued November 19, 1948
Decided December 20, 1948
Full case name Valentine Goesaert et al. v. Owen J. Cleary et al.
Citations 335 U.S. 464 (more)
69 S.Ct. 198, 93 L.Ed. 163
Prior history 74 F. Supp. 735 (E.D. Mich. 1947), probable jurisdiction noted, 68 S. Ct. 1340 (1948).
Holding
A state law prohibiting a woman from being licensed as a bartender unless she was the wife or daughter of the bar owner did not violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.
Court membership
Case opinions
Majority Frankfurter, joined by Vinson, Black, Reed, Jackson, Burton
Dissent Rutledge, joined by Douglas, Murphy
Laws applied
U.S. Const. amend. XIV, Mich. Stat. Ann. § 18990(1).
Overruled by
Craig v. Boren (1976)

Goesaert v. Cleary, 335 U.S. 464 (1948), was a United States Supreme Court case in which the Court upheld a Michigan law which prohibited women from being licensed as a bartender in all cities having a population of 50,000 or more, unless their father or husband owned the establishment. Valentine Goesaert, the plaintiff in this case, challenged the law on the ground that it infringed on the Fourteenth Amendment's Equal Protection Clause. Speaking for the majority, Justice Felix Frankfurter affirmed the judgment of the Detroit, Michigan district court and upheld the constitutionality of the state law. The state argued that since the profession of bartending could potentially lead to moral and social problems for women, it was within the state's power to bar them from working as bartenders. Only when the owner of the bar was a sufficiently close relative to the women bartender could it be guaranteed that such immorality would not be present. Craig v. Boren, 429 U.S. 190 (1976) subsequently overruled Goesaert.

Background[edit]

As part of the Michigan system for controlling the sale of liquor, bartenders were required in all cities having a population of 50,000, or more, but no female may be so licensed unless she be 'the wife or daughter of the male owner' of a licensed liquor establishment. Section 19a of Act 133 of the Public Acts of Michigan 1945, Mich.Stat.Ann. 18,990(1).

Valentine Goesaert was the owner of a bar in the city of Dearborn, Michigan. According to Michigan law, she was not allowed to be the owner of a bar since the population in Dearborn exceeded 50,000. On November 20, 1947 Valentine Goesaert and her daughter challenged the Michigan law at the district court of Detroit Michigan before Circuit Judge Simons and District Judges Levin and Picard. The women were represented by attorney Anne R. Davidow. They argued that the law denied them equal protection of the laws and deprived them of their property without due process of law. The main arguments brought forth by Goesaert were as follows:

1. It sets up an arbitrary standard of 50,000 as the population of any city to come under the act. 2. It discriminates against women owners of bars. 3. It discriminates against women bartenders. 4. It discriminates between daughters of male and female owners. 5. It discriminates between waitresses and female bartenders.

Judges Levin and Simons ruled in favor of Cleary et al., denying all of the plaintiffs' claims saying that "the power of the Legislature to make special provisions for the protection of women is not denied". On the other hand, Picard dissented, siting two reasons for his disagreement. First, he thought that the law violated Sec. 1 of the Fourteenth Amendment because it discriminated between persons similarly situated, denied plaintiffs equal protection of the laws, and was"palpably arbitrary, capricious and unreasonable, and not based on facts that can reasonably be conceived." The second reason for dissenting was that the plaintiffs should be permitted to present evidence before the court act on the interlocutory injunction.

Supreme Court Ruling[edit]

After losing in the District Court, Goesaert appealed to the Supreme Court. The women were once again represented by Anne R. Davidow. Mr. Edmund E. Shepherd represented the appellees, Cleary et al. In this case, Goesaert et al/ once again presented their arguments against the law, focusing on the claim that Michigan could not forbid females generally from being barmaids and at the same time make an exception in favor of the wives and daughters of the owners of liquor establishments.

Mr. Justice Frankfurter delivered the opinion of the court which upheld the Michigan law. He first sites the historical tradition of the regulation of liquor traffic which forbid all women from working behind a bar. Although he points out that women have begun to "achieve the virtues that men have long claimed as their prerogatives", the Constitution "does not require legislatures to reflect sociological insight, or shifting social standards." He furthered went on to explain that the Constitution does not require situations which are different in fact or opinion to be treated in law as though they were the same, citing Tigner v. State of Texas. Since the ownership of a bar by a barmaid's husband or father minimizes hazards of social and moral problems that would otherwise be present for women, the legislature need not go to the full length of prohibition with the appearance of two distinct groups of women. So in the name of protecting women from moral and social dangers in the bar, the law was upheld by the majority opinion.

Justices Rutledge, Douglas, and Murphy offered a dissenting opinion. They argued that the law arbitrarily discriminated between male and female owners of liquor establishments. Justice Rutledge presented the opinion saying, "This inevitable result of the classification belies the assumption that the statute was motivated by a legislative solicitude for the moral and physical well-being of women who, but for the law, would be employed as barmaids. Since there could be no other conceivable justification for such discrimination against women owners of liquor establishments, the statute should be held invalid as a denial of equal protection."

Impact[edit]

Although Goesaert v. Cleary upheld a Michigan state law that was discriminatory towards women, the case made a precedent for the Supreme court to look more closely at legislature providing dissimilar treatment based on gender. In his argument, Frankfurter relied on the rational basis test for equal protection legislation. With this test, the court asked "whether it is reasonable for state purposes to treat two classes of people differently." The key here is that as long as the court declared that the state had a justifiable reason to enact a law, the law would be held. By applying the rational basis test to the question of equality in gender-based legislation, Frankfurter opened the door to further state legislation that distinguished between the genders. After Goesaert v. Cleary, there were many cases that used this exact criteria to uphold laws that made distinctions between gender.

But by the 1970s, things began to shift. The Supreme Court found an Idaho law to be unconstitutional based on its discrimination against women in Reed v. Reed . In Reed the court struck down as law which gave men an automatic appointments as administrators of estates. This was a dramatic change in the Court's approach to the application of equality for men and women in the law.

See also[edit]

Further reading[edit]

  • Shetreet, Shimon (1998). Women in Law. London: Kluwer Law International. pp. 8–10. ISBN 978-90-411-0710-7. 
  • Berkheimer, R. L. (1948). "Equal Protection of the Laws—Statute Forbidding Women to Work as Bartenders". Nebraska Law Review 28: 622. ISSN 0047-9209. 
  • Tushnet, Mark (2008). I dissent: Great Opposing Opinions in Landmark Supreme Court Cases. Boston: Beacon Press. pp. 127–132. ISBN 978-0-8070-0036-6. 
  • French, Amy Holtman. "Mixing It Up:Michigan Barmaids Fight for Civil Rights," Michigan Historical Review, vol. 40 (Spring, 2014): 27-48.

External links[edit]

  • Text of Goesaert v. Cleary, 335 U.S. 464 (1948) is available from:  Findlaw  Justia