Craig v. Boren

Decision Date20 December 1976
Docket NumberNo. 75-628,75-628
PartiesCurtis CRAIG et al., Appellants, v. David BOREN, etc., et al
CourtU.S. Supreme Court

Rehearing Denied Feb. 22, 1977. See 429 U.S. 1124, 97 S.Ct. 1161.

Syllabus

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, 92 S.Ct. 251, 30 L.Ed.2d 225, 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. Held :

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, 94 S.Ct. 1704, 40 L.Ed.2d 164. P. 192.

2. Whitener has standing to make the equal protection challenge. Pp. 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. 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, 92 S.Ct. 1029, 31 L.Ed.2d 349. Pp. 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 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. 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. 204-210.

399 F.Supp. 1304, reversed.

Frederick P. Gilbert, Tulsa, Okl., for appellants.

James H. Gray, Oklahoma City, Okl., for appellees.

Mr. Justice BRENNAN delivered the opinion of the Court.

The interaction of two sections of an Oklahoma statute, Okla.Stat., Tit. 37, §§ 241 and 245 (1958 and Supp.1976),1 prohibits the sale of "nonintoxicating" 3.2% beer to males under the age of 21 and to females under the age of 18. The question to be decided is whether such a gender-based differential constitutes a denial to males 18-20 years of age of the equal protection of the laws in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment.

This action was brought in the District Court for the Western District of Oklahoma on December 20, 1972, by appellant Craig, a male then between 18 and 21 years of age, and by appellant Whitener, a licensed vendor of 3.2% beer. The complaint sought declaratory and injunctive relief against enforcement of the gender-based differential on the ground that it constituted invidious discrimination against males 18-20 years of age. A three-judge court convened under 28 U.S.C. § 2281 sustained the constitutionality of the statutory differential and dismissed the action. 399 F.Supp. 1304 (1975). We noted probable jurisdiction of appellants' appeal, 423 U.S. 1047, 96 S.Ct. 771, 46 L.Ed.2d 635 (1976). We reverse.

I

We first address a preliminary question of standing. Appellant Craig attained the age of 21 after we noted probable jurisdiction. Therefore, since only declaratory and injunctive relief against enforcement of the gender-based differential is sought, the controversy has been rendered moot as to Craig. See, e. g., DeFunis v. Odegaard, 416 U.S. 312, 94 S.Ct. 1704, 40 L.Ed.2d 164 (1974).2 The question thus arises whether appellant Whitener, the licensed vendor of 3.2% beer, who has a live controversy against enforcement of the statute, may rely upon the equal protection objections of males 18-20 years of age to establish her claim of unconstitutionality of the age-sex differential. We conclude that she may.

Initially, it should be noted that, despite having had the opportunity to do so,3 appellees never raised before the District Court any objection to Whitener's reliance upon the claimed unequal treatment of 18-20-year-old males as the premise of her equal protection challenge to Oklahoma's 3.2% beer law. See 399 F.Supp., at 1306 n. 1. Indeed, at oral argument Oklahoma acknowledged that appellees always "presumed" that the vendor, subject to sanctions and loss of license for violation of the statute, was a proper party in interest to object to the enforcement of the sex-based regulatory provision. Tr. of Oral Arg. 41. While such a concession certainly would not be controlling upon the reach of this Court's constitutional authority to exercise jurisdiction under Art. III, see, e. g., Sierra Club v. Morton, 405 U.S. 727, 732 n. 3, 92 S.Ct. 1361, 1365, 31 L.Ed.2d 636 (1972); cf. Association of Data Processing Service Organizations, Inc. v. Camp, 397 U.S. 150, 151, 90 S.Ct. 827, 829, 25 L.Ed.2d 184 (1970), our decisions have settled that limitations on a litigant's assertion of jus tertii are not constitutionally mandated, but rather stem from a salutary "rule of self-restraint" designed to minimize unwarranted intervention into controversies where the applicable constitutional questions are ill-defined and speculative. See, e. g., Barrows v. Jackson, 346 U.S. 249, 255, 257, 73 S.Ct. 1031, 1034, 1035, 97 L.Ed. 1586 (1953); see also Singleton v. Wulff, 428 U.S. 106, 123-124, 96 S.Ct. 2868, 2877, 49 L.Ed.2d 826 (1976) (Powell, J., dissenting). These prudential objectives, thought to be enhanced by restrictions on third-party standing, cannot be furthered here, where the lower court already has entertained the relevant constitutional challenge and the parties have sought or at least have never resisted an authoritative constitutional determination. In such circumstances, a decision by us to forgo consideration of the constitutional merits in order to await the initiation of a new challenge to the statute by injured third parties would be impermissibly to foster repetitive and time-consuming litigation under the guise of caution and prudence. Moreover, insofar as the applicable constitutional questions have been and continue to be presented vigorously and "cogently," Holden v. Hardy, 169 U.S. 366, 397, 18 S.Ct. 383, 390, 42 L.Ed. 780 (1898), the denial of jus tertii standing in deference to a direct class suit can serve no functional purpose. Our Brother Blackmun's comment is pertinent: "(I)t may be that a class could be assembled, whose fluid membership always included some (males) with live claims. But if the assertion of the right is to be 'representative' to such an extent anyway, there seems little loss in terms of effective advocacy from allowing its assertion by" the present jus tertii champion. Singleton v. Wulff, supra, at 117-118, 96 S.Ct. at 2875.

In any event, we conclude that appellant Whitener has established independently her claim to assert jus tertii standing. The operation of §§ 241 and 245 plainly has inflicted "injury in fact" upon appellant sufficient to guarantee her "concrete adverseness," Baker v. Carr, 369 U.S. 186, 204, 82 S.Ct. 691, 703, 7 L.Ed.2d 663 (1962), and to satisfy the constitutionally based standing requirements imposed by Art. III. The legal duties created by the statutory sections under challenge are addressed directly to vendors such as appellant. She is obliged either to heed the statutory discrimination, thereby incurring a direct economic injury through the constriction of her buyers' market, or to disobey the statutory command and suffer, in the words of Oklahoma's Assistant Attorney General, "sanctions and perhaps loss of license." Tr. of Oral Arg. 41. This Court repeatedly has recognized that such injuries establish the threshold requirements of a "case or controversy" mandated by Art. III. See, e. g., Singleton v. Wulff, supra, at 113, 96 S.Ct., at 2873 (doctors who receive payments for their abortion services are "classically adverse" to government as payer); Sullivan v. Little Hunting Park, 396 U.S. 229, 237, 90 S.Ct. 400, 404, 24 L.Ed.2d 386 (1969); Barrows v. Jackson, supra, 346 U.S., at 255-256, 73 S.Ct., at 1034-1035.

As a vendor with standing to challenge the lawfulness of §§ 241 and 245, appellant Whitener is entitled to assert those concomitant rights of third parties that would be "diluted or adversely affected" should her constitutional challenge fail and the statutes remain in force. Griswold v. Connecticut, 381 U.S. 479, 481, 85 S.Ct. 1678, 1679, 14 L.Ed.2d 510 (1965); see Note, Standing to...

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