Virginia, United States v. 518 U.S. 515 (1996)

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VIRGINIA, UNITED STATES v. 518 U.S. 515 (1996)

Virginia Military Institute (VMI) is a military-style school of higher education founded in 1839 with an all-male admissions policy. By the 1970s, VMI was the only single-sex public college in Virginia and had a record of producing leaders in government and business. At the request of a potential woman applicant, the United States brought suit in 1990 claiming that VMI's admissions policy violated the

equal protection guarantee of the fourteenth amendment. After trial the district court rejected the claim, finding that VMI offered diversity to Virginia's higher educational system and that admission of women would alter VMI's distinctive adversative method, which involved barracks without privacy, strenuous exercise, and bonding through torment by upperclassmen.

The United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit reversed, holding that Virginia's provision of diversity for men only was unconstitutional. On remand the district court approved a "substantively comparable" program at a private women's college in Virginia. The Fourth Circuit affirmed.

The Supreme Court reversed, concluding that Virginia had relied on stereotypes about women and had not proved that the admission of women would destroy the adversative method. Justice ruth bader ginsburg wrote the majority opinion for six Justices. Chief Justice william h. rehnquist concurred, while Justice antonin scalia dissented and Justice clarence thomas did not participate. After applying "skeptical scrutiny" of official discrimination, detailing many inadequacies of the "comparable" program, and noting that there was no equivalent school for women, the Court held that Virginia had violated the equal protection clause; that women should be admitted to VMI; and that VMI should alter housing and skills requirements to accommodate "celebrated differences" of the female cadets. After the Supreme Court's decision, VMI considered abandoning state support and remaining all-male, but decided instead to admit women.

The VMI case footnoted, without comment, the argument that women's schools "dissipate" gender stereotypes. The constitutionality of all-women's schools or separate-but-equal single-sex schools was not before the court and, therefore, not decided.

Candace Saari Kovacic -F leischer


Epstein, Cynthia Fuchs 1997 The Myths and Justifications of Sex Segregation in Higher Education: VMI and the Citadel. Duke Journal of Gender Law & Policy 4:101–118.

Kovacic -F leischer, Candace Saari 1997 United States v. Virginia 's New Gender Equal Protection Analysis with Ramifications for Pregnancy, Parenting, and Title VII. Vanderbilt Law Review 50:845–915.

Nemko, Amy 1998 Single-Sex Public Education after VMI: The Case for Women's Schools. Harvard Women's Law Journal 21:19–77.

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Virginia, United States v. 518 U.S. 515 (1996)

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