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Remembering Ruth: Ginsberg's impact on 1970s Oklahoma beer law

Posted at 1:07 PM, Sep 24, 2020
and last updated 2020-09-24 19:35:43-04

TULSA, Okla. — The late U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is remembered for her battle against gender discrimination in federal law.

As a practicing attorney one of her early cases featured a few Oklahoma State University students and a Stillwater convenience store.

Retired lawyer Curtis Craig tells 2 Works for You, his fraternity brother at OSU challenged an Oklahoma state beer law in the 1970s as part of a class assignment. The state statute said women in Oklahoma could purchase 3.2% alcoholic beer at the age of 18 but men had to wait until the age of 21.

Craig, a law undergrad at the time, decided to file a lawsuit against the state with Honk 'n' Holler owner, Carolyn Whitener, joining his side.

“It continues to be the precedent for gender discrimination so the little beer case out of Stillwater, Oklahoma has stood its ground for all these years," Craig said.

Craig and Whitener lost the challenges in state and appellate courts, but then American Civil Liberties Union lawyer Ruth Ginsburg noticed the case.

"Ginsburg was very involved in gender discrimination," Craig said. "She brought a lot of clout to the case."

Craig said Ginsburg helped the team get their case in front of the Supreme Court in 1976.

“Only 1% of cases appealed to the Supreme Court are heard, but they did choose the beer case here in Oklahoma to be heard before the U.S. Supreme Court," Craig said.

Ginsburg acted as co-counsel for the plaintiff and the Supreme Court ruled 7-2 the statute as unconstitutional.

"She was very instrumental in the case," Craig said.

And instrumental in Craig's own legal career. A moment of mentorship molded a more than 40-year career as a lawyer in Oklahoma.

"Her demeanor. Her soft spokenness. Her wit. Yeah, I think it influenced how I present myself,” Craig said. "“Very cordial. Very, very sweet lady and like I said we lost a great mind.”

Craig told 2 Works for You the ruling in Craig v. Boren is still used as precedent in other gender equality rulings to this day. He said it's been cited over 1,000 times in other cases.

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