Craig v. Boren

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Craig v. Boren
Argued October 5, 1976
Decided December 20, 1976
Full case nameCraig et al. v. Boren, Governor of Oklahoma, et al.
Citations429 U.S. 190 (more)
97 S. Ct. 451; 50 L. Ed. 2d 397; 1976 U.S. LEXIS 183
Case history
PriorDismissed, Walker v. Hall, 399 F. Supp. 1304 (W.D. Okla. 1975), probable jurisdiction noted sub. nom., Craig v. Boren, 423 U.S. 1047 (1976).
SubsequentRehearing denied, 429 U.S. 1124 (1977).
To regulate in a sex-discriminatory fashion, the government must demonstrate that its use of sex-based criteria is substantially related to the achievement of important governmental objectives.
Court membership
Chief Justice
Warren E. Burger
Associate Justices
William J. Brennan Jr. · Potter Stewart
Byron White · Thurgood Marshall
Harry Blackmun · Lewis F. Powell Jr.
William Rehnquist · John P. Stevens
Case opinions
MajorityBrennan, joined by White, Marshall, Powell, Stevens; Blackmun (all but Part III–D)
ConcurrenceBlackmun (in part)
ConcurrenceStewart (in judgment)
Laws applied
U.S. Const. amend. XIV
This case overturned a previous ruling or rulings
Goesaert v. Cleary (1948)

Craig v. Boren, 429 U.S. 190 (1976), was a landmark decision of the US Supreme Court ruling that statutory or administrative sex classifications were subject to intermediate scrutiny under the Fourteenth Amendment's Equal Protection Clause.[1] The case was argued by future Supreme Court justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg while she was working for the American Civil Liberties Union.[2]


Oklahoma passed a statute prohibiting the sale of "nonintoxicating" 3.2% beer to males under the age of 21 but allowed females over the age of 18 to purchase it.

Legislation in Oklahoma[edit]

Oklahoma was the first state not to ratify the ERA[3] (Equal Rights Amendment) which allowed for gender discrimination to remain legal. The treatment of sex in relation to alcoholic beverages was set by the precedent in a 1948 case, Goesarert v. Cleary.[4] Throughout this case, it was revealed that stereotypes and predictions of how men and women will act is unfair. There were claims such as “males drive more, drink more, and commit more alcohol related crimes”[4] that stood as the deciders for these rulings.

Curtis Craig was a Freshman in College at Oklahoma State University during the time where this case was tried.[3] Both Curtis Craig and Carolyn Whitener were friends of a man named Mark Walker who was one of the first people to challenge the law. Ironically, Walker died in a car crash in a drunk driving incident. When Curtis turned 21, Whitener became the sole plaintiff.[3]

The Honk N Holler was a drive-in convenience store that was owned by Carolyn Whitener.[5] She credits the idea for this to Mark Walker. She claims it was his idea before the drunk driving incident. The Honk N Holler planned the lengthy struggle against discriminatory law.

Argument for the petitioner[edit]

The statute was challenged as a Fourteenth Amendment's Equal Protection Clause violation by Curtis Craig, a male who was over 18 but under 21, and Carolyn Whitener, an Oklahoma vendor of alcohol.[6]

The plaintiff argument, originally pioneered by Mark Walker, was carried on by Curtis Craig and then taken on by Honk and Holler owner Carolyn Whitener, after Craig turned 21. Curtis Craig at the age of 18 would go to different 7/11’s and ask to buy 3.2% beer only to be told no.[5] He instead would have to have a girl buy him the beer as she only had to be 18 to do so.[6] Craig argued, “If 18 year olds can fight for their country and have the right to vote, why should they be discriminated against as persons drinking 3.2 beer.”[6] Craig also argued that the state should be required to prove the distinction in gender served “compelling state interest”, a test only used in race discrimination cases before.

Whitener built on this by claiming the statutory gender provisions that apply to alcohol vendors in the distribution of alcohol incur economic injury on the vendor as they are either not able to sell to a wider audience or suffer economic sanctions if they violate the Oklahoma law.[7] She advocated for the rights of third parties, like Curtis Craig, seeking access to their market by stating “vendors may resist efforts to restrict their operations."[7]

Both Craig and Whitener used a 1971 Supreme Court case, Reed v. Reed, in which the Oklahoma legislature had equalized the age for the purchase of alcohol, setting both at 18, but changed it when they faced a challenge from anti-liquor forces.[8] Reed set the precedent that classification by gender must substantially further important government objectives, which Craig and Whitener used to claim Oklahoma did not meet the requirements to impose their alcohol law based on that precedent.[9]

Response from the respondent[edit]

The nominal defendant was David Boren, who was sued ex officio by virtue of his serving as Governor of Oklahoma at the time of the lawsuit. Ruth Bader Ginsburg, working as an attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union, advised the plaintiff's attorney, submitted an amicus brief, and was present at the counsel table during oral argument before the Supreme Court.[10]

Involvement of the ACLU Women's Rights Project[edit]

Ruth Bader Ginsburg

This case was part of Ginsburg's work with the ACLU Women's Rights Project.[2]

The Supreme Court was called upon to determine whether a statute that denied the sale of beer to individuals of the same age based on their gender violated the Equal Protection Clause. Also, the Supreme Court examined for jus tertii (third-party rights), in this case, the vendor of the 3.2% beer.


Justice William J. Brennan delivered the opinion of the Court in which he was joined by justices White, Marshall, Powell and Stevens (Justice Blackmun joined all but one part of the opinion, and Blackmun, Powell, Stevens, and Stewart wrote concurrences).[1]

Majority opinion[edit]

The Court held that the gender classifications made by the Oklahoma statute were unconstitutional because the statistics relied on by the state were insufficient to show a substantial relationship between the statute and the benefits intended to stem from it.

The Court instituted a standard, dubbed "intermediate scrutiny," under which the state must prove the existence of specific important governmental objectives, and the law must be substantially related to the achievement of those objectives.

As to third-party rights, the court, expanding on the doctrine of standing, held that the vendors of 3.2% beer would be economically affected by the restrictive nature of the sales to males between 18 and 20. To have standing, one must show a "nexus" of the injury to oneself and the constitutional violation of the statute. In this case, the statute directly affected Whitener only economically, but the Supreme Court explained that Whitener and other vendors have standing to assert the concomitant rights of other parties, such as Craig.

The Court acknowledged that parties economically affected by regulations may challenge them "by acting as advocates of the rights of third parties who seek access to their market or function."

Concurring opinion[edit]

Justice Blackmun wrote a concurring opinion, agreeing that a higher standard of scrutiny was appropriate. Blackmun disagreed with the discussion of the Twenty-First Amendment.[11]

Dissenting opinions[edit]

Chief Justice Burger and Justice Rehnquist dissented.

Rehnquist dissented because he felt that the law needed to pass only "rational basis," as previous cases in the area, such as Stanton v. Stanton, had used only the "rational basis" test.

Burger was "in general agreement with Mr. Justice Rehnquist's dissent" but penned a separate dissent to emphasize that "a litigant may only assert his own constitutional rights or immunities." He felt that the indirect economic injury to Whitener and other vendors introduced "a new concept of constitutional standing to which I cannot subscribe."


As a result of Craig v. Boren and Reed v. Reed, Congress later passed the National Minimum Drinking Age Act which penalized states 10% of their allotted Federal highway funds if they had a minimum drinking age below 21. This act was upheld as constitutional by the Supreme Court in South Dakota v. Dole.

See also[edit]


  • Gryski, Gerard S.; Main, Eleanor C. (1986). "Social Backgrounds as Predictors of Votes on State Courts of Last Resort: The Case of Sex Discrimination". Western Political Quarterly. University of Utah. 39 (3): 528–537. doi:10.2307/448346. JSTOR 448346.
  • Segal, Jeffrey A.; Reedy, Cheryl D. (1988). "The Supreme Court and Sex Discrimination: The Role of the Solicitor General". Western Political Quarterly. University of Utah. 41 (3): 553–568. doi:10.2307/448602. JSTOR 4486020.


  1. ^ a b Craig v. Boren, 429 U.S. 190 (1976).
  2. ^ a b "The History of the ACLU Women's Rights Project" (PDF). Retrieved May 11, 2023.
  3. ^ a b c Reporter, @aubriesloan, Aubrie Bowlan, Staff (September 21, 2016). "Craig v. Boren plaintiffs celebrate 40th anniversary of Supreme Court case at Edmon Low". Retrieved May 17, 2023.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  4. ^ a b
  5. ^ a b ""Key Beer Suit Figure Remembered by Friends"". Tulsa World. December 21, 1979.
  6. ^ a b c "The Supreme Court Historical Society - Learning Center - Women's Rights". Archived from the original on September 19, 2020. Retrieved December 2, 2017.
  7. ^ a b "Curtis CRAIG et al., Appellants, v. David BOREN, etc., et al". LII / Legal Information Institute. Retrieved May 18, 2023.
  8. ^ "Supreme Court Decisions & Women's Rights: Justice for Beer Drinkers - Craig v. Boren | SCHS Classroom Resource". Supreme Court Historical Society. Retrieved May 18, 2023.
  9. ^ "Craig v. Boren, 429 U.S. 190 (1976)". Justia Law. Retrieved May 18, 2023.
  10. ^ Williams, Wendy Webster (2013). "Ruth Bader Ginsburg's Equal Protection Clause: 1970-80". Retrieved December 2, 2017.
  11. ^ "Craig v. Boren". Oxford Reference. Retrieved May 11, 2023.

External links[edit]