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United States v. Virginia

Citation. 518 U.S. 515, 116 S. Ct. 2264, 135 L. Ed. 2d 735, 1996 U.S.
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Brief Fact Summary.

The Virginia Military Institute (VMI) was the only single-sex collegiate institution run by the State of Virginia. The Petitioner, the United States (Petitioner), maintained that the Respondent, Virginia’s (Respondent), exclusion of women from VMI violated the equal protection guarantee of the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution (Constitution).

Synopsis of Rule of Law.

A state may not preclude one gender or the other from participating in a unique educational environment solely on the basis of gender.


VMI has a long tradition of providing a rigorous, military style college experience to its undergraduate students. Since its founding in 1839, VMI has been an exclusively male institution. After a negative ruling by the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, the Respondent attempted to create a separate women’s program at a coeducational institution. However, it was clear that the qualifications of the faculty and students at the parallel institution for women were inferior to VMI’s in several indicators.


Does the current system of excluding women solely on the basis of race from VMI violate equal protection?
If so, what is the appropriate remedy?


The current system violates the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution and the appropriate remedy is to admit women to VMI.
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg (J. Ginsburg) notes that heightened (that is, intermediate) scrutiny is the appropriate level of review for gender-based discrimination.
J. Ginsburg concedes that there are pedagogical benefits to having single-sex educational institutions, but that the Respondent had not established that VMI was established or maintained, with regard to its exclusion of women, for diversifying educational opportunities in Virginia.
J. Ginsburg categorically denies that VMI’s “adversative method of training” is incompatible with accepting women, as the VMI’s methods were well known to those familiar with the school, and the student body was self-selecting in this regard.


Justice Antonin Scalia (J. Scalia) views the majority opinion as shutting down a traditional institution and that intermediate review is inappropriate in gender-based classification cases.


Interestingly, the majority opinion leaves open the door to separate, but equal institutions of learning for men and women. Much of the Supreme Court of the United States’ disapproval of VMI’s single-sex education lies not with its single-sex character, but rather with the lack of comparable opportunities for women within Virginia’s state colleges. It was the denial to women of the uniqueness of the opportunities afforded by VMI that Virginia was unable to justify under intermediate scrutiny.

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