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On the basis of beer: How a Stillwater bar sparked Ruth Bader Ginsburg's Supreme Court career

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A photo of the Honk n' Holler location, which is still standing today on 6th Ave, just east of Mazzio's.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s list of accomplishments as a Supreme Court Justice is all but short and began in Stillwater, Oklahoma.

Ginsburg, who died Friday evening, is famous for her work in gender equality, often fighting for women’s rights, but in 1976, she fought for the rights of men and their beer in Oklahoma.

In the early 70’s, Oklahoma law allowed women to buy beer at 18, but men were required to be 21. OSU students Mark Walker and Curtis Craig, along with Honk ‘n Holler convenience store owner Carolyn Whitener, filed a lawsuit against then-governor David Boren. The plaintiffs claimed that the Oklahoma law discriminated on the basis of sex and was therefore unconstitutional. 

After losing in the Oklahoma and appellate courts, Ginsburg heard of the case Craig v. Boren and saw its potential to advance equal rights. The case was Ginsburg’s first appearance in front of the Supreme Court. 

As a lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union, Ginsburg presented the case. 

“The discrimination is revealed as simply another manifestation of traditional attitudes and prejudices about the expected behavior and roles of the two sexes in our society, part of the myriad signales and messages that daily underscore the notion of men as society’s active members, women as men’s quiescent companions, members of the ‘other’ or second sex,” Ginsburg said in 1997.

On Dec. 20, 1976, the Oklahoma law was deemed unconstitutional by the Supreme Court. Ginsburg called the law “really silly, gossamer”, but the decision influenced many laws that discriminated based on sex. 

“It’s so amazing how often Craig vs. Boren has been cited,” Ginsburg told Whitener in 1997. 

Although Honk ‘n Holler is no longer in business, the old building is still standing on 6th Ave.

Ginsburg had other ties to Oklahoma. She was a Lawton resident in 1955, working for a social security office.