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SCOTUS directs a wag of the finger toward the ‘West Point of the South’ (United States v. Virginia)

Quimbee: United States v. Virginia

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The Virginia Military Institute (VMI) was a state-funded and highly respected academic institution that offered a combination of academic and military training to its students. VMI had a male-only admissions policy and refused to accept applications from female applicants.

In response, a female high school student lodged a complaint with the United States Department of Justice about the policy. The United States sued the State of Virginia, arguing that VMI’s admissions policy discriminated against women in violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

During litigation, Virginia attempted to remedy the situation by creating the Virginia Women’s Institute for Leadership as an alternative program for female applicants. However, the women’s program did not utilize VMI’s method of training. Instead, the program called for a less rigorous, nonmilitary cooperative method meant to account for the perceived differences in learning styles between the genders. The women’s program received less funding and did not carry the cache of VMI.

Despite a court’s initial approval of the training plan, the case came before the United States Supreme Court in United States v. Virginia, 518 U.S. 515 (1996). The Court concluded that VMI’s male-only admissions policy could not survive constitutional scrutiny.

Thus, the Court struck down VMI’s admissions policy as a violation of the Equal Protection Clause.

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