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Women’s near-beer tier takes the OK out of Oklahoma law (Craig v. Boren)

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Quimbee: Craig v. Boren

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The State of Oklahoma permitted the sale of low-alcohol beer to women over the age of 18. But men in the state could not purchase the same beer until they reached the age of 21.

Curtis Craig, an Oklahoma man who had not yet turned 21, and a beer vendor sued the state to challenge the statute. Craig asserted that the statute constituted gender discrimination in violation of the Equal Protection Clause.

On review in the United States Supreme Court, the issue was whether the statute’s imposition of different age requirements for the purchase of beer was an unconstitutional, gender-based classification.

In considering the question, the Court articulated a new standard for evaluating gender-based classifications under the Equal Protection Clause: intermediate scrutiny. Under intermediate scrutiny, a law must be substantially related to furthering an important government objective to survive constitutional challenge.

The Court concluded that Oklahoma could not satisfy this test and struck down the law. This case is notable for the introduction of the intermediate standard of review for gender-based classifications. But it was also a significant moment in the career of a young civil-rights attorney on the winning side: future Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

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