Craig v. Boren,
429 U.S. 190 (1976)

Annotate this Case
  • Syllabus  | 
  • Case

U.S. Supreme Court

Craig v. Boren, 429 U.S. 190 (1976)

Craig v. Boren

No. 75-628

Argued October 5, 1976

Decided December 20, 1976

429 U.S. 190


Appellant Craig, a male then between 18 and 21 years old, and appellant Whitener, a licensed vendor of 3.2% beer, brought this action for declaratory and injunctive relief, claiming that an Oklahoma statutory scheme prohibiting the sale of "nonintoxicating" 3.2% beer to males under the age of 21 and to females under the age of 18 constituted a gender-based discrimination that denied to males 18-20 years of age the equal protection of the laws. Recognizing that Reed v. Reed, 404 U. S. 71, and later cases establish that classification by gender must substantially further important governmental objectives, a three-judge District Court held that appellees' statistical evidence regarding young males' drunk-driving arrests and traffic injuries demonstrated that the gender-based discrimination was substantially related to the achievement of traffic safety on Oklahoma roads.


1. Since only declaratory and injunctive relief against enforcement of the gender-based differential was sought, the controversy has been mooted as to Craig, who became 21 after this Court had noted probable jurisdiction. See, e.g., DeFunis v. Odegaard, 416 U. S. 312. P. 429 U. S. 192.

2. Whitener has standing to make the equal protection challenge. Pp. 429 U. S. 192-197.

(a) No prudential objective thought to be served by limitations of jus tertii standing can be furthered here, where the lower court already has entertained the constitutional challenge and the parties have sought resolution of the constitutional issue. Pp. 429 U. S. 193-194.

(b) Whitener in any event independently has established third-party standing. She suffers "injury in fact," since the challenged statutory provisions are addressed to vendors like her, who either must obey the statutory provisions and incur economic injury or disobey the statute and suffer sanctions. In such circumstances, vendors may resist efforts to restrict their operations by advocating the rights of third parties seeking access to their market. See, e.g., Eisenstadt v. Baird, 405 U. S. 438. Pp. 429 U. S. 194-197.

3. Oklahoma's gender-based differential constitutes an invidious discrimination against males 18-20 years of age in violation of the Equal Protection Clause. Appellees' statistics (the most relevant of which

Page 429 U. S. 191

show only that .18% of females and 2% of males in the 18-20-year-old age group were arrested for driving while under the influence of liquor) do not warrant the conclusion that sex represents an accurate proxy for the regulation of drinking and driving. Pp. 429 U. S. 199-204.

4. The operation of the Twenty-first Amendment does not alter the application of equal protection standards that otherwise govern this case. The Court has never recognized that application of that Amendment can defeat an otherwise established claim under the Equal Protection Clause, the principles of which cannot be rendered inapplicable here by reliance upon statistically measured but loose-fitting generalities concerning the drinking tendencies of aggregate groups. Pp. 429 U. S. 204-210.

399 F.Supp. 1304, reversed.

BRENNAN, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which WHITE, MARSHALL, POWELL, and STEVENS, JJ., joined, and in all but Part II-D of which BLACKMUN, J., joined. POWELL, J., post, p. 429 U. S. 210, and STEVENS, J., post, p. 429 U. S. 211, filed concurring opinions. BLACKMUN, J., filed a statement concurring in part, post, p. 429 U. S. 214. STEWART, J., filed an opinion concurring in the judgment, post, p. 429 U. S. 214. BURGER, C.J., post, p. 429 U. S. 215, and REHNQUIST, J., post, p. 429 U. S. 217, filed dissenting opinions.

Primary Holding

The Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment does not permit states to set different minimum ages for residents of each gender to purchase liquor.


In Oklahoma, women who were over the age of 18 could buy non-intoxicating 3.2% beer, whereas only men who were at least 21 could buy it. A male who was between the ages of 18 and 21, Curtis Craig, brought a lawsuit against the law in connection with an alcohol seller. Boren was the Governor of Oklahoma at the time and was simply sued in that official capacity, since only the law was being challenged.

Issues & Holdings

Issue: Whether third parties (such as the alcohol vendor in this case) have standing to bring a lawsuit when they suffer only economic harm.
Holding: Yes, as long as there is a direct causal nexus between the challenged law and the economic harm.



  • William Joseph Brennan, Jr. (Author)
  • Byron Raymond White
  • Thurgood Marshall
  • Lewis Franklin Powell, Jr.
  • John Paul Stevens

While it addressed the tangential procedural question under Issues and Holdings above, the opinion focused on the substantive matter of the state's use of statistics to justify the law. Brennan was not persuaded that they showed a sufficiently substantial relationship between the law and what the state identified as its positive effects.


  • Harry Andrew Blackmun (Author)

Blackmun felt that the Court should have used a higher standard of review, closer to the strict scrutiny for race-based classifications.


  • Lewis Franklin Powell, Jr. (Author)


  • John Paul Stevens (Author)


  • Potter Stewart (Author)


  • Warren Earl Burger (Author)

Burger objected to the section of the majority's opinion on the standing issue. He felt that economic harm was too indirect a connection to satisfy the procedural requirements.


  • William Hubbs Rehnquist (Author)

Rehnquist argued that the Court should have used a rational basis standard for reviewing a gender-based classification. rather than any level of heightened scrutiny. In a sense, his dissent was the doctrinal opposite of Blackmun's concurrence.

Case Commentary

This case is known for the development of the intermediate scrutiny standard, which places the burden on the government to justify a gender-based classification by identifying an important objective and a substantial relation between the objective and the means chosen to achieve it.

Disclaimer: Justia Annotations is a forum for attorneys to summarize, comment on, and analyze case law published on our site. Justia makes no guarantees or warranties that the annotations are accurate or reflect the current state of law, and no annotation is intended to be, nor should it be construed as, legal advice. Contacting Justia or any attorney through this site, via web form, email, or otherwise, does not create an attorney-client relationship.

Disclaimer: Official Supreme Court case law is only found in the print version of the United States Reports. Justia case law is provided for general informational purposes only, and may not reflect current legal developments, verdicts or settlements. We make no warranties or guarantees about the accuracy, completeness, or adequacy of the information contained on this site or information linked to from this site. Please check official sources.