Mississippi University for Women v. Hogan 1982

views updated

Mississippi University for Women v. Hogan 1982

Petitioner: Mississippi University for Women

Respondent: Joe Hogan

Petitioner's Claim: That the state supported school's nursing program did not violate gender discrimination laws because its single-sex admission policy was a form of affirmative action.

Chief Lawyer for Petitioner: Hunter M. Gholson

Chief Lawyer for Respondent: Wilbur O. Colom

Justices for the Court: William J. Brennan, Jr., Thurgood Marshall, Sandra Day O'Connor, John Paul Stevens, Byron R. White

Justices Dissenting: Harry A. Blackmun, Chief Justice Warren E. Burger, Lewis F. Powell, Jr., William H. Rehnquist

Date of Decision: July 1, 1982

Decision: That the Mississippi University for Women had violated Hogan's constitutional right to equal protection of the law guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment by barring his admission to its nursing school.

Significance: The Court found that men as well as women are constitutionally protected against gender discrimination. A new level of scrutiny, intermediate scrutiny, is applied in gender discrimination cases. The case lead to the end of publicly funded single-sex schools.

In 1979 Joe Hogan was a surgical nurse and nursing supervisor in a medical center in Columbia, Mississippi. Through various two- and three-year programs, it was possible to have a nursing career without obtaining a four-year university degree. However, as in the case of many careers, a four-year degree meant a higher skill level which also meant a higher salary. Desiring to complete his four-year degree, Hogan applied to a university in his hometown of Columbus. The problem he ran into was reflected in the name of the school, Mississippi University for Women.

The Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, approved in 1868, guaranteed "equal protection of the laws" to "any person" within a state. However, it would take the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act almost a century later to begin correcting gender (sex) discrimination. Gender discrimination is the unfair treatment of a person or group because of their sex. Traditionally, in the thoughts of most Americans and in reality, gender discrimination meant discrimination against women. However, "any person" in the Fourteenth Amendment certainly referred to both women and men. Increasingly in the 1970s cases involving discrimination against men began to reach the U.S. Supreme Court.

Males Need Not Apply

Although men were allowed to audit (to attend without receiving formal credit) courses, the Mississippi University for Women was a single-sex school and its nursing program was only open to women. Founded in 1884 as the Mississippi Industrial Institute and College for the Education of White Girls of the State of Mississippi, it was one of the country's first public state-supported, single-sex universities for women. Many single-sex private colleges also existed. The nursing school was founded in 1971 and had been offering a four-year degree in nursing since 1974. Since the nearest co-educational (for both men and women) nursing program was 147 miles away, Hogan applied to Mississippi University for Women and was rejected only on the basis of his gender. The school suggested he audit courses but he decided to turn to the courts for help.

Hogan filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court claiming the school policy violated his constitutional freedom of equal protection of the laws under the Fourteenth Amendment. Hogan, determined to make a change in his community, requested that the university's women-only admissions policy be changed. Eventually, Hogan's suit made not only a change in his community but changed the way equal protection cases are examined when it appears a person has been discriminated against because of gender.

Standards of Examination in Equal Protection Cases

The U.S. Supreme Court, to be certain it looks at cases fairly, develops standards to follow. These standards are applied in the same manner to cases asking similar questions. In equal protection cases courts look especially in depth when it appears an individual or a group of people is being discriminated against simply because they belong to a certain race or nationality. This in-depth look is called strict scrutiny (examination). For example an equal protection case involving a black American or an Irish American would be looked at with strict scrutiny to be sure the person was not unfairly singled out by the policy or law because of race or nationality. If it is determined by the court that an individual or group is being unfairly treated due to race, nationality, or alienage (a person living in the United States but a citizen of another country), then the court will next apply a test called "compelling" state interest. A state would be required to prove that no other way existed to accomplish the goal of the law and that the law was essential to the interest or operation of the state. Few laws survive the strict scrutiny examination. Most are struck down.

Until the 1970s if the equal protection case did not involve race, nationality, or alienage, then a low-level scrutiny was applied. Gender cases were included in the low-level scrutiny. This low-level scrutiny was called "rational basis." The state only had to prove the law in question was based on a "legitimate" (honest) interest of the state. For example, a state discriminates against persons under sixteen years of age by having a law which prevents them from driving a car. The court recognizes that this law applies to all persons under sixteen, not just persons of a certain race, so strict scrutiny is not applied. Instead, rational-basis scrutiny is applied. Therefore, the state must simply prove it has a legitimate interest to allow this law. The legitimate interest is safety of the public roads. The court agrees this is an honest interest of the state and the law stands.

In Joe Hogan's case the U.S. Supreme Court confirmed a new midway standard between strict scrutiny and low-level rational basis, called intermediate scrutiny, to use in gender cases. This mid-way standard was first introduced by Justice William J. Brennan, Jr., in Craig v. Boren (1976) but became much better defined with Justice Sandra Day O'Connor's opinion in Mississippi University for Women v. Hogan.

You Take the Low Road, I'll Take the High Road

Earlier in Hogan's case, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Mississippi took the low-level rational basis road by applying only "minimal" scrutiny. Deciding against Hogan, the court ruled that the state had a legitimate interest in providing a female-only nursing program. The appeals court, rejecting the district court decision, said the low-level "minimal" scrutiny was not enough examination and needed a higher level of scrutiny. The appeals court noted that gender discrimination had long been a problem and found no differences between men and women to rationalize separate educational facilities for nursing. The court ruled that the admissions policies of Mississippi University for Women as a whole were discriminatory and, indeed, unconstitutional. The appeals court declared Hogan should be admitted. To resolve the two conflicting lower court opinions, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear the case.

Affirmative Action Meets Equal Protection

Arguing its case before the Supreme Court, Mississippi University claimed that its single-sex nursing school was a form of "affirmative action." Affirmative action programs, begun in the 1960s, were widespread in government agencies and educational institutions by the 1970s. The programs sought to correct past discrimination by providing preferential treatment to women and blacks. In defending its rejection of Mr. Hogan, the university argued that (1) having a school for women only made up for past gender discrimination, and (2) the presence of men would hurt female students' performance.

In a 5-4 decision, the Court upheld the appeals court ruling in favor of Hogan. Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, writing her first opinion for the Court, begun by deciding which level of scrutiny to use. Obviously, a gender problem does not fall in strict scrutiny reserved for race, nationality, or alienage. However, low-level rational basis scrutiny did not give enough examination to the historic gender discrimination problem. O'Connor chose an intermediate-level scrutiny for gender cases. She wrote that the state must show "important governmental objectives [goals]" for the law or policy.

Using intermediate scrutiny, O'Connor concluded Mississippi University for Women's goal of correcting past discrimination against women with their women-only policy was unimportant. Noting that 98.6 percent of all nursing degrees in the United States are earned by women, she reasoned there was no discrimination against women in their pursuit of a nursing degree. In fact, restricting the program to women tended to further the stereotype (fixed mental picture) of nursing as "woman's work."

In answer to the university's second argument, O'Connor observed that men already sit in on classes with no negative effect on the female students' performance.

Therefore, the O'Connor agreed with the court of appeals' ruling. The Court found the gender-discrimination policies of Mississippi University for Women unconstitutional in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment's "equal protection of the laws."


W omen have long fought for equal rights in areas of compensation that range from pay to benefits; but cases such as Mississippi University for Women v. Hogan signify a counter-trend, that of reverse-discrimination lawsuits. The most famous of these was University of California v. Bakke (1978), which challenged reverse discrimination on the basis of race; but challenges on the basis of gender have been viewed differently by the Supreme Court. This is perhaps because gender, unlike race, was not a factor in the drafting or the passage of the Fourteenth Amendment.

Part of what makes questions about reverse discrimination difficult is the fact that they can be approached on many different levels. There is, for instance, the political or legal level, based on the Constitution, statutes, and general beliefs about fairness. But there are also viewpoints based on tradition or on actual practices. Thus for instance, alimony laws, which have tended to favor women, are written that way because past experience—at least, prior to the 1970s—showed that women were more likely than men to be financially hurt in a divorce settlement.

The End of Public Single-Sex Schools

Dissenting (not agreeing with majority opinion) justices argued that single-sex educational facilities were historically an important part of the American educational scene. The dissenters feared this decision would lead to the elimination of publicly supported colleges exclusively for women, which is what happened.

Despite later public pressure to raise the standard to strict scrutiny for gender issues, the intermediate-scrutiny level as used in the Mississippi University for Women case continued to be applied by courts in the late 1990s. In United States v. Virginia (1996), the Court used intermediate scrutiny in striking down Virginia Military Institute's policy excluding women as students. By the end of the twentieth century, the only single-sex universities still operating were private institutions.

Suggestions for further reading

Beckwith, Francis J., and Todd E. Jones, eds. Affirmative Action: Social Justice or Reverse Discrimination? Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books, 1997.

Nerad, Maresi. The Academic Kitchen: A Social History of Gender Stratification at the University of California, Berkeley. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1999.

Streitmatter, Janice L. For Girls Only: Making a Case for Single-Sex Schooling. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1999.

About this article

Mississippi University for Women v. Hogan 1982

Updated About encyclopedia.com content Print Article


Mississippi University for Women v. Hogan 1982