United States v. Virginia (1996)
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Opinion of the Court: Ginsberg
Joined by Stevens, O'Connor, Kennedy, Souter, Breyer
Concurring Opinion: Rehnquist
Dissenting Opinion: Scalia
Thomas Abstained because his son was enrolled in VMI at the time

Intermediate Scruntiny

1. Facts: Over 300 women applied for entry to VMI, a male single gender school. The Virginia Military Institute (VMI) boasted a long and proud tradition as Virginia's only exclusively male public undergraduate higher learning institution. The United States brought suit against Virginia and VMI alleging that the school's male-only admissions policy was unconstitutional insofar as it violated the Fourteenth Amendment's equal protection clause. On appeal from a District Court ruling favoring VMI, the Fourth Circuit reversed. It found VMI's admissions policy to be unconstitutional. Virginia, in response to the Fourth Circuit's reversal, proposed to create the Virginia Women's Institute for Leadership (VWIL) as a parallel program for women. On appeal from the District Court's affirmation of the plan, the Fourth Circuit ruled that despite the difference in prestige between the VMI and VWIL, the two programs would offer "substantively comparable" educational benefits. The United States appealed to the Supreme Court.

2. Legal Issues

1. Does VMI's policy of admitting only males violate the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment?

Opinion of Justice Ginsberg for the Court

Holding 1. Yes. 7-1 decision.


VMI claimed that their male only education policy furthered diversity interests and provided certain educational benefits that would be lost if they were forced to accept women. However, the court found that they failed to demonstrate "exceedingly persuasive justification" for the gender based admissions policy and were in direct violation of the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment as gender based classifications should be viewed with strict scrutiny. Moreover, the school's attempt to establish an equivalent institution for women had produced an institution without the equivalent resources and structure of a VMI education. The state argued that this alternate school met a standard of "substantive comparability," but since the case is being examined under strict scrutiny the Court did not agree.

Concurring Opinion of Rehnquist

Reject the uncertainty of "exceedingly persuasive justification." Thinks that so as an equal caliber institution for women exists, even if it is different in method, then single-sex education may be maintained.

Dissenting Opinion of Scalia

Scalia feels it up to the legislature to make a change (like precedent West Point) "when a practice not expressly prohibited by the text of the Bill of Rights bears the endorsement of long tradition of open, widespread, and unchallenged use that dates back to the beginning of the Republic, we have no basis for striking it down."

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