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Mississippi University for Women v. Hogan

    Brief Fact Summary. The Respondent, Joe Hogan (Respondent), challenged the woman’s only admission policy after being denied admission into a nursing program solely on the basis of gender.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. A women’s only admission’s policy is constitutional when it is supported by a significant government interests and is substantially related to the governmental objective.

    Facts. From its inception, the Petitioner, the Mississippi University for Women (Petitioner), has limited its enrollment to only women. The Petitioner includes a School of Nursing, which maintains its own admission policy. The Respondent is a registered nurse who was denied admission to the Petitioner’s School of Nursing on the basis of gender. The Respondent sought to have the School of Nursing admission policy declared unconstitutional under the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution. However, the District Court denied preliminary injunctive relief for the Respondent. The Court of Appeals reversed the District Court ruling that “because the admissions policy discriminates on the basis of gender, the District Court improperly used a ‘rational relationship’ test to judge the constitutionality of the policy . . . . ” The judgment of the Court of Appeals was affirmed.

    Issue. Whether a state statute that excludes males from enrolling in a state-supported professional nursing school violates the Equal Protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution (Constitution).

    Held. Justice Sandra Day O’Connor (J. O’Connor) Yes. The State failed to show that the admission policy “serve[d] ‘important governmental objectives and that discriminatory means employed’ are ‘substantially related to the achievement of those objectives’.”
    The Petitioner provides no basis for gender-based classifications in its admission’s policy. There is “no showing that women lacked opportunities to obtain training in the field of nursing or to attain positions of leadership in that field when the MUW School of Nursing opened its door or that women currently are deprived of such opportunities.”
    The Petitioner’s policy, also, “is not substantially and directly related to its proposed compensatory objective. MUW’s policy of allowing men to attend classes as auditors and to participate in continuing education courses with female students undermines its claim that women are adversely affected by the presence of men.”

    Dissent. The dissenting opinions are as follows:
    Chief Justice Warren Burger (J. Burger). The Supreme Court of the United States’ holding is limited to professional nursing schools. “Since the Court’s opinion relies heavily on its finding that women have traditionally dominated the nursing profession, it suggests that a State might well be justified in maintaining, for example, the option of an all-women’s business school or liberal arts program.”
    Justice Harry (J. Blackmun). If the Supreme Court continues to be rigid in its application of sex discrimination rules, it will increase the risk of States losing its ability to offer its citizens with choices in their educational endeavors while “not depriving others of an alternate choice . . . .”
    Justice Lewis Powel (J. Powell). The Equal Protection Clause of the Constitution does not apply to this case because the Respondent is only arguing that “he has the right to attend a college in his home community.”

    Discussion. If a state’s expressed governmental interest is inconsistent with the expressed governmental objective, the classified-gender discrimination cannot be upheld under constitutional standards.


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