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United States v. Virginia

Citation. 518 U.S. 515, 116 S.Ct. 2264, 135 L.Ed.2d 735 (1996).

Brief Fact Summary.

Plaintiff sues to reverse male-only admission policy at state-run VMI.

Synopsis of Rule of Law.

The state must show the sex-based classification serves important government interest and the discriminatory means are substantially related to the achievement of those objectives.


Since 1839, VMI’s distinctive mission was to produce “citizen solders,” men prepared for leadership in civilian life and in military service. VMI was the last male-only school in Virginia and used an adversative method of teaching modeled in other military schools. This included physical rigor, mental stress, absolute equality of treatment, absence of privacy, minute regulation of behavior, and indoctrination. VMI cadets lived in spartan barracks and were surveilled constantly.

In 1990, a female applicant who was denied admission to VMI filed a complaint with the Plaintiff. Plaintiff then sued the Defendants, alleging the male-only policy violated the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment.


Whether a male-only admission policy at a state school denies women of rights guaranteed under the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment.


Yes. A male-only admission policy at a state school denies women of rights guaranteed under the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment.


Justice Scalia

The tradition of having government-funded military schools for men is as well rooted in the traditions of this country as the tradition of sending only men into military combat. There is simply no support in our cases for the notion that a sex-based classification is invalid unless it relates to characteristics that hold true in every instance.

If the applicable standard of review for sex-based classifications were reconsidered, the stronger argument would be to reduce it to rational basis review.


Justice Rehnquist

Even if diversity in educational opportunity were the state’s actual objective, the state’s position would still be problematic because the diversity benefits only one sex.

It is not the exclusion of women that violates the Equal Protection Clause, but the maintenance of an all-men school without providing any institution for women. VWIL also fails as a remedy because it is distinctly inferior.


Defendants have shown no exceedingly persuasive justification from excluding all women. The notion that admission of women would downgrade VMI’s stature is a judgement hardly proved, a prediction hardly different from other self-fulfilling prophecies once routinely used to deny rights and opportunities, i.e. law and medicine.

VWIL also does not cure the constitutional violation because it does not provide equal opportunity. It provides no opportunity to experience the rigorous military training for which VMI is famed. Generalization about “the way women are” no longer justify denying opportunity to women whose talent and capacity place them outside the average description.

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