United States v. Virginia (1996) Case Brief

Summary of United States v. Virginia (1996)

Relevant Facts: After the US sued Virginia under the theory of Hogan, that VMI’s men’s only status was violative of the EPC. When it won, VA was forced to establish the VWIL at a women’s school, to provide some of the same benefits for women only. Although the lower courts held this not to be violative of the EPC, the Court reversed.

Issue: Under constitutional law, does a program established for females to mirror the same discriminatory policy by a similar state school for men violate the EPC when the Court mandated that the state do something to remedy its discriminatory situation?

Holding: Yes. VA has fallen short of establishing the exceedingly persuasive justification that must be the solid base for any gender-defined classification.

Court’s Rationale/Reasoning: Although some classifications against sex can be used to compensate, promote stability, or to advance development of talent, but not to perpetuate the legal, social, and economic inferiority of women.

VA 1st justification, that diversity of educational benefits was a benign goal, but not one of the actual state purposes that motivated the policy. But such a goal came too late in the game, after the Court already demanded the State fix its problem.

VA 2nd justification, that it preserved the adversative method of education, was rejected. The Court found that although women might develop differently, the goal of VMI, to develop citizen soldiers (using their own mission study committee’s words against the school) was a goal that should cover women as well.

As for the remedial plan, the VWIL, the Court held that its precedent said that the plan did not remedy the discrimination the Court previously found to exist. Justice Ginsburg found the program was qualitatively different and quantitatively inferior to the male version at VMI. Tangible differences included fewer courses, less qualified faculty members, and lower admission standards. Intangible differences included the loss of the adversative method and the bonding it seems to achieve. VA sought to defend this by contending women wanted a more supportive and less adversative situation.

Ginsburg didn’t buy it. Programs that are justified by saying “that’s what women want,” is not compelling, especially when the men’s program is not founded “b/c that’s what men want.” Bottom line: VA has now shown substantial equality in the separate educational opportunities the State supports at VWIL and VMI.

Rule: Focusing on the differential treatment or denial of opportunity for which relief is sought, the reviewing court must determine whether the proffered justification is “exceedingly persuasive.” The burden against strict scrutiny for the State is to show “at least that the challenged classification serves “important governmental objectives and that the discriminatory means employed are substantially related to the achievement of those objectives. Justification must be genuine, and not rely on overbroad generalizations about the different talents, capacities, or preferences of males and females.”

A State’s remedial decree must closely fit the constitutional violation; it must be shaped to place persons unconstitutionally denied an opportunity or advantage “in the position they would have occupied in the absence of discrimination.

Important Dicta: N/A.

Dissenting: (Justice Scalia): VA should be allowed to change with the times: if this means establishing a women’s military-type school, then so be it. The 1st Amendment allows for such change, but the majority does not use this as its policy. Instead, it refuses to recognize that men and women have different educational needs.



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