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Law School Case Brief

Goesaert v. Cleary - 335 U.S. 464, 69 S. Ct. 198 (1948)


The Fourteenth Amendment does not tear history up by the roots, and the regulation of the liquor traffic is one of the oldest and most untrammeled of legislative powers. A state can, beyond question, forbid all women from working behind a bar. This is so despite the vast changes in the social and legal position of women. The fact that women may now have achieved the virtues that men have long claimed as their prerogatives and now indulge in vices that men have long practiced, does not preclude the states from drawing a sharp line between the sexes, certainly in such matters as the regulation of the liquor traffic. U.S. Const. amend. XXI. The Constitution does not require legislatures to reflect sociological insight, or shifting social standards, any more than it requires them to keep abreast of the latest scientific standards.


As part of the Michigan system for controlling the sale of liquor, bartenders were required, pursuant to § 18.990(1), to be licensed in all cities having a population of 50,000 or more, but no female could be licensed unless she was the wife or daughter of the male owner of a licensed liquor establishment. The female bartenders sought to enjoin enforcement of the statute, claiming that it violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. When a three-judge district court denied the injunction, the female bartenders appealed.


Was the Michigan statute forbidding women from being licensed as bartenders and at the same time making an exception in favor of the wives and daughters of the owners of liquor establishments violative of the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment?




The Court held that the classification made as between wives and daughters of liquor establishment owners and wives and daughters of non-owners was not without a reasonable basis and that Michigan could deny to all women opportunities for bartending. The Court stated that Michigan could not play favorites among women, but bartending by women might give rise to moral and social problems against which the statute devised preventive measures, and the legislature evidently believed that the oversight assured through ownership of a bar by a barmaid's husband or father minimized hazards that might confront a barmaid without the protection.

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