Gender Equality in the Schools and Armed Forces
The issue: Does the Constitution allow the segregation of schools or the armed forces on the basis of sex?

By the 1980s, attention shifted from racial segregation in the public schools to separate education based on gender.  In the 1982 case of Mississippi University for Women v. Hogan, the Court narrowly found the female-only admission policy at a state nursing school to be a denial of equal protection of the laws to a male who had sought admission to the program.  The Court said the Mississippi could not justify the policy as an affirmative action program because it failed to show Mississippi females were disadvantaged in seeking nursing jobs--in fact, the evidence suggested that the policy had the effect of reinforcing gender stereotypes.  The Court hinted that a female-only admission policy for a business or engineering school might have fared better.  iThen, in 1996, the Court found Virginia to be in violation of the Constitution in the closely-watched case of United States v. Virginia, a challenge to the male-only admission policy of the Virginia Military Institute.  The Court ruled that a somewhat similar program  for women, the Virginia Women's Institute for Leadership, was not "substantially equal" to the program of VMI, as required by the Equal Protection Clause.

Bernard Rostker, Director of the Selective Service System
 sued in Rostker v Goldberg (1981)

In Rostker v Goldberg, the Court, by a 6 to 3 vote, rejected the argument that the Fifth Amendment's equal protection aspect was violated by the Selective Service Act in its "authorizing the President tp require the registration of males and not females."  Justice Rehnquist's majority opinion emphasized that congressional decisions affecting the military were due great deference.  The Court nonetheless applied heightened scrutiny.  It found the law substantially furthered the government's important interest in raising a combat-ready military.  Accepting the government's contention that women are less suitable for combat, the Court concluded that the "classification is not invidious, but rather realistically reflects the fact that the sexes are not similarly situated."

Further Reading

Virginia Military Institute

Jeffrey Rosen,"Separate but Equal at VMI:Like Race, Like Gender,"
The New Republic, 2/19/1996



Mississippi Univ. for Women v. Hogan (1982)
United States v. Virginia (1996)
Rostker v Goldberg (1981)

Some of the first female cadets at their VMI graduation  (Roanoke Times, by S. Dean)


1. What does Mississippi University suggest about the constitutionality of a female-only engineering school or a male-only nursing school?
2.  Does the test used by the Court in the VMI case come closer to intermediate scrutiny or strict scrutiny?
3.  Could Virginia have created a female-only military school that would have satisfied the Court's demand for gender equality?
4.  Should gender separateness ever be tolerated in public education?  What, if any, benefit might gender-specific programs have?
5.  Does a public school violate the equal protection clause when it offers varsity wrestling or football programs that are open only to boys?  Volleyball or cheerleading programs that are open only to girls?  Although sports competition is governed by Title IX, does the Constitution in some cases go further in requiring schools to open up programs?
6.  Are there important reasons to restrict combat service to males?  What are they?  Other nations allow women to serve in combat positions.  Should the experiences of those nations be considered in evaluating the strength of the military's justification for limiting combat service in the U. S. armed forces to males?
7.  Even assuming that important reasons exist to limit combat service to males, are there equally important reasons to limit application of the military registration program to males?
8.  What is the source of the Court's conclusion that gender classifications concerning the military are entitled to more deference than gender classifications affecting other operations of government?


Related Links
Mississippi University for Women
Virginia Military Institute

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