Nixed Beer Sale Led to Landmark Court Decision

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It wasn't unusual for Mark Walker to stop by his professor's office after American government class in 1972 and discuss the issues and politics with graduate assistant Michael Graham.

But Graham remembers one particular day when the Oklahoma State University student was angry about an incident off-campus.

"He was complaining about the fact that he had been refused a sale on some beer at a convenience store," said Graham, now an assistant professor of political science at San Francisco State University. "He was a bit upset by the fact that at the same time, in the state of Oklahoma, males could buy 3.2 (percent) beer at 21, but females could at the age of 18." After talking about it, Graham told Walker to consult an attorney and sue the state if he felt so strongly. Little did Graham know that his advice would lead four years later to a landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision many say struck down discrimination on the basis of gender. Oklahoma State University will commemorate the case's 20th anniversary today with "Craig v. Boren and the Development of Women's Constitutional Rights," featuring keynote speaker Stephanie Seymour, the chief justice of the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Many of the case's principals will participate in the program. The case known as Craig v. Boren not only rendered Oklahoma's beer law unconstitutional but established another set of standards by which the law could evaluate gender discrimination. Political Science Professor Robert Darcy, whose students researched the case, said the tests the Supreme Court typically applied to laws up until 1976 were whether they were rational or whether they required "strict scrutiny." "The rationality of the law would be determined by its face and by the evidence that the state chooses to bring to bear," Darcy said. "States can discriminate on the basis of race, but any such distinction gets what the court calls strict scrutiny, when discrimination on the basis of race has to be justified in certain terms." The high court set a "middle" level of evaluation in Craig v. Boren, Darcy said. The case also, ironically, may have derailed efforts to ratify the burgeoning Equal Rights Amendment, Darcy said. Thirty-five states ratified the ERA before the case but none did afterward, he said. "It basically made ERA a moot question ... Then it became a symbolic struggle over who would win, the left or the right." Walker claimed the state of Oklahoma violated the 14th Amendment of the U. …


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