US v. Virginia Case Brief

Summary of US v. Virginia

Facts: VMI is the only single sex public university in Virginia. It is an all-male military school. VMI uses the adversative method (physical rigor, mental stress). The school refuses to admit women. The attorney general sues.

Procedural History: District court upheld the school’s policy. The court of appeals reversed, saying it violated the EPC. Virginia proposed a remedial plan, where it would adopt a parallel program for women, the VWIL. The VWIL would share the VMI’s “citizen-soldier" mission.


  1. Does Virginia’s exclusion of women from the VMI deny women who are capable of the rigorous VMI program equal protection of the laws?
  2. If the VMI policy violates the EPC, what is the proper remedial requirement?

Holding: Virginia has shown no “exceedingly persuasive justification" for excluding women.

Reasoning: Apply intermediate scrutiny (important governmental objective/substantially related) with a third prong: “exceedingly persuasive justification" for defending gender-based classifications (basically, that you can’t promote a system that contributes to the inferiority of women).

  • Also the justification for the policy must be genuine (no hypothetical motives, no changing motives for the purpose of litigation—this is different than what Michael M says).
  • Also, it must not rely on overbroad generalizations about the different capabilities of the sex (can’t rely on stereotypes).

State’s arguments and rebuttal:

  1. it has an interest in offering a diversity of educational approaches
    1. Educational diversity is an important governmental interest, but there is no evidence that VMI was established in order to promote educational diversity.
  2. females generally wouldn’t be able to thrive under the adversative approach
    1. This is an overbroad generalization of women’s capabilities. If there is one woman who can meet VMI standards, then you can’t exclude all women.

In regards to the remedial plan proposed:

  • VWIL is not equal to VMI. The VWIL uses the “cooperative method" of education rather than the “adversative" method. The course offerings, history, prestige, alumni network, etc. are all different.
  • This is basically separate but unequal

Judgment: The state’s policy is unconstitutional.


Rehnquist concur:

  • I don’t agree with the third prong they added to the intermediate scrutiny test (“exceedingly persuasive justification").
  • The state has an interest in promoting single-sex education because it has shown to be beneficial. But, there has been no similar showing that the adversative method is beneficial, so there’s no legitimate interest in promoting the adversative system. Therefore, it doesn’t matter that to admit women the VMI would have to change the adversative method.
  • Excluding women doesn’t necessarily violate the EPC, it’s the fact that there’s no comparable institution for women.

Scalia dissent:

  • The state has an important interest in providing effective college education. Says single-sex education is substantially related to providing a quality education. If you look at the governmental interest broadly like Scalia advocates, then the VMI policy passes.
  • Reasons to look at it broadly: The court’s function is to preserve our nation’s values. We have no place in striking down this tradition of single-sex institutions. No proper basis for striking down something for which there’s a long history (but wait, what about anti-miscegenation laws??).
  • Of course Virginia’s interest would be best served if it had a comparable women’s institution, but the state doesn’t have limitless financial resources. If it wants to invest its funds in an all male institution because it believes that’s the best way to promote its interest in diversity, then that’s their prerogative.

What does the “exceedingly persuasive justification" mean? Rehnquist says that it doesn’t change the standard, but the majority opinion makes it sound like a little more may be required.

Adversative method is not an IGI. Diversity in education is an IGI.

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