Respondent challenged the state statute that excludes males from enrolling in a state-supported professional nursing school violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.
When the policy expressly discriminates among applicants on the basis of gender, it is subject to scrutiny under the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The party seeking to uphold a statute that classifies individuals on the basis of their gender must show an exceedingly persuasive justification for the classification.
In 1884, the Mississippi legislature created the Mississippi University for Women, which has from its inception limited its enrollment to women. In 1971, the University established a School of Nursing. Respondent is a registered nurse but does not hold a baccalaureate degree in nursing. In 1979, the respondent applied for admission to the University’s baccalaureate program. Although he was otherwise qualified, he was denied admission solely because of his sex. School officials informed him that he could audit the courses in which he was interested, but could not enroll for credit.
Does the state statute that excludes males from enrolling in a state-supported professional nursing school violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment?
Yes, considering the state’s asserted interest and the relationship between the interest and the methods used by the State, the State has failed to establish the exceedingly persuasive justification needed to sustain the gender-based classification. Thus, the University’s policy of denying males the right to enroll for credit in its School of Nursing violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.
Respondent is not significantly disadvantaged by the University’s all-female tradition and there is no constitutional right to attend a state-supported university in one’s home town. Coeducation is a novel educational history. They provide an element of diversity and an environment in which women generally speak up more in their classes and hold more leadership positions on campus.
In Schlesigner v. Ballard, the Court considered a federal statute that granted female naval officers a 13-year tenure of commissioned service before mandatory discharge, but accorded male officers only a 9-year tenure. The Court recognized that, because women were barred from combat duty, they had had fewer opportunities for promotion than had their male counterparts. In the current case, however, Mississippi has made 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 University School of Nursing opened its door or that women currently are deprived of such opportunities. In fact, in 1970, the year before the School of Nursing’s first class enrolled, women earned 94% of the nursing baccalaureate degrees conferred in Mississippi. Rather than compensate for discriminatory barriers faced by women, the University’s policy of excluding males from admission to the School of Nursing tends to perpetuate the stereotyped view of nursing as an exclusively woman’s job. The State not only failed to establish that the alleged objective is the actual purpose underlying the discriminatory classification and that the classification is substantially and directly related to its proposed compensatory objective.